Abortion opponents say they may picket the homes of Planned Parenthood employees, a move leaders of the clinic say would take the personal attacks to a new level.
The center, at 3051 E. New York St. in Aurora, is scheduled to open Sept. 18. The 22,000-square-foot clinic, which will perform abortions, will be one of the nation's largest Planned Parenthood's.
Clinic officials worry opponents will threaten and begin to target individuals, said Steve Trombley, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area.
"We've already seen them engaging in personal attacks," he said. "This will escalate the fight to another level."
Chicago's Pro-Life Action League spokesman Eric Scheidler acknowledged plans to picket workers' homes if the center opens.
"If you're going to be involved in a business as shameful as Planned Parenthood … one of the consequences of that is that your neighbors will know you're working for an abortion clinic," Scheidler said.
As for how they'll discover who the workers are and where they live, he said, "We'll deal with that when (it opens)."
His group may have to challenge city ordinances to picket, he said.
Aurora ordinances, for example, prohibit picketing "upon or across the public way from, adjacent to or in front of the personal residence or dwelling of any person." It's a misdemeanor with a fine of between $50 and $500.
Trombley said officials have reviewed security measures with police.
"Threats and intimidation directed at individuals begin to cross that level into a dangerous activity," he said.
City leaders are reviewing the clinic's development process, with the help of an outside consultant, because some have criticized Planned Parenthood for coming to town under false pretenses. In permit applications, the development was listed as Gemini Development Corp., a subsidiary of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood officials have maintained they followed proper development guidelines. A city decision is expected in two to three weeks.
Both Planned Parenthood officials and opponents of the clinic called the intensity and size of protests thus far unprecedented.
"This is an historic reaction, in terms of numbers, intensity, commitment and creativity," Scheidler said. "I hope this is the beginning of massive, nationwide, backlash against Planned Parenthood."
For his part, Trombley said he hasn't seen this kind of intensity since the 1990s, with anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, "when people would travel around the country in huge groups and chain themselves to the doors to block access.
"At that time, these groups also escalated their ground tactics to threats, but in some cases, they actually carried them out," he said.
On-site protests in Aurora have been peaceful so far. But the city has received numerous complaints from residents about the protesters' presence, including their graphic signs and crosses.
Two people who live in the area were arrested last week after a confrontation with protesters, police said.
One resident was charged with disorderly conduct, the other with battery, after the two shouted obscenities and kicked the crosses, police said. After a protester tried to stop the woman from kicking crosses, her male companion shoved the protester and threatened him, police said.