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A longtime and successful advocate for reproductive rights has been named as the new executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Colleen K. Connell, known most recently for a successful petition for Cert in a 7th Circuit partial birth abortion case, begins working under her new title in January. She replaces veteran ACLU director Jay A. Miller, who is retiring after more than 30 years with the premier civil rights organization. “Under Colleen’s leadership we can expect to have both a continuation of both the quality of advocacy in the program [and] an expansion of the program as well,” said ACLU of Illinois legal director Harvey Grossman. Grossman said that he expects Connell, who was out of the office Friday, will work to enhance the public education component of the office and “refine and develop our racial justice program.” A North Dakota native, Connell earned her law degree from the University of Iowa. In 1984 she joined ACLU of Illinois, where Grossman said she has earned a reputation for being “an excellent lawyer and a leading advocate for reproductive rights issues.” The current associate legal director for the Reproductive Rights Project, Connell has handled several significant cases before appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, including one last year involving partial birth abortion laws. The issue was remanded by the high court and is currently pending in the 7th Circuit. Grossman also mentioned Connell’s work on the Ragsdale case, which settled before oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court and set the standards for ambulatory surgical facilities that perform abortions outside hospital settings. The consent decree set standards that provided for safety but were not overly restrictive of the facilities, Grossman said. Connell also is credited with leading the legal effort to strike down Illinois’ Medicaid restrictions in funding abortions and making a successful challenge to the state’s parental notice for minors statute, he added. As executive director of ACLU of Illinois, which claims 13,000 members statewide, Connell will head one of the largest ACLU offices in the country. With 27 employees, it is second only to the office in Southern California. She is the first woman to head the Illinois office. Michael Cook, president of the ACLU Board and chair of the board’s search committee, praised the appointment in a prepared statement. “She has distinguished herself with a vision for leading the organization,” Cook said. “The ACLU is fortunate to have this fusion of talent, experience and leadership in the position of executive director.”

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