Central Illinois Right to Life rally explores many facets of respect for life

Elaine Riddick, involuntarily sterilized through a eugenics program in North Carolina in 1968, chats with Sister Mary Faustina Chesnut, OSF, at the Life and Freedom Rally sponsored by Central Illinois Right to Life on June 24 at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

By Paul Thomas Moore

Central Illinois Right to Life marked the first anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade while recognizing a related fight for the dignity of human life.

Ken Goins, CIRTL president, said this year’s Life and Freedom Rally on June 24 at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria incorporated the word “freedom” in the title in tribute to the crusade for justice undertaken by keynote speaker Elaine Riddick. “She’s definitely aware of some of the freedoms that are being taken from us,” he said.

Riddick came by her knowledge in a traumatic way.

Raised by her grandmother because her parents were alcoholics, she was raped by a married neighbor and gave birth by cesarean section when she was 14. Immediately after the birth, unbeknownst to her, she was sterilized. The state of North Carolina had labeled her “feeble-minded,” and they had a eugenics program for that.

Riddick said her illiterate grandmother didn’t understand the sterilization paperwork, and was coerced into signing “X” in order to retain food rations.


The operation was botched and Riddick would suffer physically for years. But to her, the worst pain was when, newly married at age 19, she learned she couldn’t have more children.

“I wanted a baby so bad,” she said. Her husband wasn’t happy either and blamed her, abusing her before they divorced.

Her only consolation was her son, Tony, whom she raised with her grandmother’s help.

Riddick admitted a detour into drugs, but that “wasn’t me,” she said. Still, left with the painful void of her sterility, she repeatedly asked God, “Why me?”

Then one day she perceived God asking in return, “Why not you?” She came to understand that God wanted her to fight the wrong she and others had suffered.

“He said, ‘I will not give you another purpose and another mission until you complete this one,’” she said.

Riddick began legal proceedings through the American Civil Liberties Union in 1974. In 2014, 46 years after her 1968 sterilization, she and hundreds of other victims in North Carolina were awarded $50,000 each.

Along the way, she earned her high school equivalency and an associate degree in applied science from The City College of New York.

Riddick has continued her quest for justice, knowing from personal experience that poverty and powerlessness leave people on the margins vulnerable to any number of societal scourges. Currently, she is raising funds to build the Elaine Riddick Sister Sanctuary for at-risk girls in Marietta, Georgia.


Asked how pro-life people can reach out to the African American community, Riddick responded, “You just have to keep putting it out there . . . one by one.”

Her answer was echoed by Sister Mary Faustina Chesnut, OSF, medical office assistant at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, who said, “If we don’t reach out . . . guess who will? Planned Parenthood.”

Sister Faustina said that witnessing for life can also yield unexpected personal benefits. While doing so in front of an abortion clinic in Granite City 25 years ago, she was approached by a priest who asked, “Have you ever thought about being a nun?”

Sister Faustina allowed her habit to cue the punch line: “I guess you know what happened.”

The rally also featured a traveling Memory Wall to help men and women with “abortion-wounded hearts” honor their children. Anyone who wishes to have a message written on a heart and added to the wall may send a short inscription to askcirtl@gmail.com.

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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