Michigan mayor apologizes for calling pro-lifers ‘forces of darkness’

Citizens turn out by the score to criticize demand Grand Rapids stop funding elective abortions.
Wed May 16, 2012 - 10:34 am EST

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN, May 16, 2012, ( – Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell apologized last night for calling pro-life advocates the “forces of darkness” at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser last week. But even as he retreated, residents in the southwestern Michigan city are pressing for a new measure to assure their tax dollars are not spent on elective abortions.

“Every year the forces of darkness seek to deprive women of the health and education resources that they need by choking off the funding to Planned Parenthood,” Heartwell said as he delivered the keynote address at Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan’s annual fundraiser last Thursday.

After blasting “ultra-conservative” political and religious “forces,” he asked “what’s not to love” about Planned Parenthood’s relationship with “vulnerable” women.

According to local media, Heartwell’s office received e-mails and telephone calls from across the country, leading him to back down.

“My comments were terribly insensitive and I regret them,” he said at a city commission meeting Tuesday night. “For those whom I hurt with those comments, I deeply apologize.”

Image was the first national news source to break the story of the mayor’s comments last Friday morning.

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Citizens crowded the civic event last night to register their disappointment to Heartwell’s face.

“To call the majority of your constituents ‘forces of darkness’ is inappropriate,” said Adrienne Urban, a homeschooler and blogger.

“I was deeply grieved when I heard” the mayor’s statement, one woman said, adding the mischaracterization brought her to tears. Another said his wording implied pro-lifers were “for Satan.”

Some right to life advocates identified themselves as “proud members of the forces of darkness.”

First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer took the city executive to task for criticizing the “biggest allies in actually helping solve the social problems we have.”

At one point Heartwell asked, “Anybody else want to beat up on the mayor tonight?” He did not apologize for supporting Planned Parenthood.

The mayor is a former chairman of the abortion provider, as well as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. (He transferred his membership from the Reformed Church in America after receiving fallout for his role in adding “gender orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination policy.)

He also taught community leadership at Aquinas College, a local Dominican university.

Heartwell’s remarks drew a stern rebuke from his 2007 mayoral opponent, Rick Tormala. “What kind of minister refers to people and religious institutions with legitimate concerns about contraception and abortion as ‘the forces of darkness?” he asked in a letter. “Demonizing people who disagree with you is the kind of divisive and poisonous rhetoric that divides and polarizes a community. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Tormala wrote in his letter, “I want my tax money going to real women’s health care, children, seniors, the vulnerable, our veterans, and our heroes still serving in the military and their families. Those ought to be our funding priorities not Planned Parenthood.”

According to the local news website, the meeting was packed with “scores” of citizens inquiring about the city’s health care coverage of abortion.

Rina Sala-Baker, who nearly won election to council herself last year, delivered approximately 1,600 signatures to the meeting asking the city to restrict its insurance coverage of abortion to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom told that the city currently pays for abortions when a doctor deems it “medically necessary.” However, that term is undefined.

Sala-Baker and a large number of attendees last night said they want assurances they are not paying for a procedure that violates the ethics of the conservative city.




  george heartwell, grand rapids, michigan

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