Illinois Is the Midwest’s Abortion Refuge. Clinics Are Being Terrorized
For years, the stately two-story Tudor at 600 N. Logan Avenue in Danville, Illinois, was an ophthalmologist’s office, run by a cataract surgeon with a passion for raising Newfoundland dogs. The building was put up for sale when he retired in 2017, but it wasn’t until this year that a new owner finally began renovations. Since then, the still-empty building has been the site of protests, the subject of a controversial city ordinance and, this past weekend, the target of an arson attack.
Shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, 73-year old Philip J. Buyno allegedly drove his 2013 Passat — loaded with old tires, firewood, flares, and cans of gasoline and antifreeze — backwards into the building. Buyno lives more than three hours away from Danville, in Prophetstown, Illinois, but he told police he’d heard the building was set to reopen as an abortion clinic, and resolved to burn it to the ground.
When officers arrived at the scene they found the car lodged halfway into the building’s entrance, its driver still inside. The arson attempt, according to the FBI affidavit, quickly devolved into a comedy of errors: “After the Passat got stuck, Buyno was trapped inside and could not get out. Buyno stated that he threw the red gas can out of the window so the gas would spill and he could light the gas on fire, but the can landed in an upright position. Buyno told us that he intended to burn his own car, along with the building, but he never got the chance because he got stuck inside the Passat and then the police arrived.”
In an interview the following day, Buyno was unrepentant. “If I could sneak in with a gas can and a match, I’d go in there again,” he said.
There was no formal announcement that Counseling of Indiana, operators of the Indianapolis-based Clinic for Women, which offers first-trimester abortions and other reproductive health care, was planning to move to Logan Avenue. The building was purchased by an LLC with a different name; outside, the sign still reads Dillman Eye Care. But earlier this year, residents became aware of the clinic’s plans and, encouraged by Mark Lee Dickson, a well-known activist and lawyer from Texas, began organizing to prevent it from opening.
A few weeks before Buyno allegedly drove his car into the building, a closely-divided Danville City Council voted to prohibit the shipping and delivery of abortion pills and “abortion-related paraphernalia” within city limits. Danville’s ordinance was inspired by similar laws passed at the urging of Dickson, the driving force behind the “sanctuary cities for the unborn” movement in Texas. The first of those anti-abortion ordinances — crafted with the help of lawyer Jonathan Mitchell — passed in 2019 and became the inspiration for Senate Bill 8, the Texas law that banned most abortions months before Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“We don’t expect to see this end in Danville. We expect to see other cities throughout the great state of Illinois pass ordinances as well,” Dickson told a local CBS affiliate after the ordinance was passed, adding that other communities are also interested in trying to banning abortion in their boundaries.
Before he allegedly attacked the clinic, Buyno expressed support for the concept. In 2019, he was arrested three times for trespassing at Planned Parenthood in Peoria, Illinois. After his third arrest, Buyno told a fellow activist he would promise to stop trespassing if he could find a city official to talk with about passing an ordinance: “I want to advance the idea of making Peoria a city of refuge for the preborn.”
In an email, Dickson said he’d never had any contact with Buyno and distanced himself from his actions: “Phil Buyno does not represent the peaceful, non-violent, and non-destructive pro-life movement that I am a part of. I find it despicable that someone who claims to value life would do something so stupid to risk both his own life and the lives of others. Phil Buyno is a ‘bad actor’ whose actions are criminal and I hope he gets the just punishment he deserves.”
Since the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal right to abortion in June, Illinois, with its robust reproductive health protections, has become a refuge for women seeking abortion across the Midwest. According to the University of Chicago, the state has experienced the second-highest increase in abortions of any state since Dobbs — a 28 percent rise between April and August of 2022. Those figures track with Illinois providers’ own statistics, which show that roughly one-third of patients they’ve treated in the last year have come from out-of-state.
Illinois has also become a destination for abortion providers who can no longer operate in states that have imposed restrictions — including Indiana, where Clinic for Women is based. Indiana lawmakers outlawed abortion last August, but the procedure currently remains legal through 20 weeks of pregnancy while advocates challenge the law in court. (Reached by phone, a representative for the clinic declined to comment for this story.)
As demand for their services spikes, providers in Illinois have also reported increasing hostility. Two Planned Parenthood Centers in Chicago have had their windows smashed in. The Peoria Planned Parenthood where Buyno was arrested in 2019 was firebombed in January. Jennifer Welch, president of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, says she doesn’t expect the Peoria facility to reopen until next year.
“Illinois is a haven for reproductive rights in the Midwest. We know that we’re going to continue to be targeted by anti-abortion extremists and so we really have to remain vigilant,” Welch says. “Whether it’s physical violence, or legislative violence, or ordinances — all of those have the impact of keeping patients from getting the care that they need and deserve. It is a chilling effect on people’s access to care that we really worry about. Even if that Danville ordinance won’t stand, it’s already frightened patients.”
Before officials in Danville passed their ordinance banning abortion pills and paraphernalia, both the ACLU and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul warned they would sue the city to stop it from going into effect. Officials in Danville, staring down the prospect of a long, expensive ordeal defending the ordinance in court, added an amendment at the last minute clarifying the ordinance would only go into effect if a court issued a judgment declaring it legal. Considering Illinois’ existing protections, such an amendment renders the ordinance, in the attorney general’s words, “merely symbolic.”
Symbols have meaning, though. The officials who wrote and passed Danville’s ordinance intended it to send a message — and it did. “From this ordinance, we’ve seen this act of violence,” says Ameri Klafeta, director of Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project at ACLU of Illinois, referencing the failed arson attempt last Saturday. “I think that’s a good example of how this whole situation has created a very clear harm to the clinic and to the community.”