March 16-22, 2006
City Beat : ArticleWho is Stacey Zallie?
A new billboard campaign tries to avoid the politics of abortion.
: Michael T. Regan
For 20 years, the answer was: someone who seemed awfully lucky. Stacey was the youngest child of George Zallie, the second-generation owner of eight area Shop-Rites. She was a star athlete, gorgeous, and looking forward to raising a family. Everything she needed was in place, and, to hear her father tell it, everything she wanted within reach.
But in late 2001, Stacey asked to see a therapist; not long after, she came down the stairs of her parents' house and told her mother that she had taken too many pills. This was not Stacey's first cry for help, the Zallies learned (she once "scratched her wrists"), and there would be several more. The Zallies knew something was wrong, of course, but they didn't know what. They were still in the dark when, in October 2002, 21-year-old Stacey took her own life.
It wasn't until a few weeks afterward that a friend told the Zallies about Stacey's abortion, which had occurred a year before, right around the time her downward spiral began. George Zallie had never thought particularly hard about abortion. It had always just seemed like one of those terribly polarizing issues where he could see merit to both sides. But after learning about his daughter's, Zallie set out to understand the after-effects of the procedure. What he found was a world of women who had made very difficult choices. Some of them were comfortable with their decisions, but a numberthere are conflicting studies about how manybecame plagued by deep depression, guilt or a sense of loss. And rather than support from family or friends, they received either "pro-life condemnation" (how could you do such a thing?) or "pro-choice denial" (abortion is never problematic).
Zallie became convinced that Stacey had been afflicted with post-abortion depression, and that it had led to her suicide. He set out to find a way to commemorate her.
The Stacey Zallie Foundation has two main objectives. The first is to raise awareness of post-abortion grief, so that suffering girls and womenZallie sometimes calls them "Staceys"will know that they don't have to suffer alone. That's what the two dozen billboards, in prominent places like I-95, are for. The second is to provide an online "portal" that refers visitors to counseling resources. Ultimately, Zallie would like to take the campaign national, and to provide funding for women who can't afford counseling.
His great challenge will be keeping the foundation nonpartisan. The resources StaceyZallie.org lists are balanced between faith-based and secular, and the carefully chosen slogan appears to say it all. But convincing people that the foundation is nonjudgmental has not been easy. Lonny Strum, a pro-choice marketing consultant who is assisting the campaign, initially balked because he thought the foundation sounded like a "veiled" pro-life group. And while numerous pro-life blogs, Web sites and groups have praised Zallie, there has been very little public reaction from pro-choice groups. Some pro-lifers have speculated that pro-choicers want to silence dialogue about post-abortion struggles because they fear such stories hurt their cause; neither NARAL nor the local Planned Parenthood returned calls by press time.
Sitting in the kitchen of his beautiful home in Cherry Hill, where photographs of Stacey adorn the shelves and a lonely silence drifts over the fancy furniture, George Zallie explains his position. "I don't care where you stand on the pro-life/pro-choice debate," he says. "That's not my issue."
He grows protective, and his voice snaps as he states just what his issue is:
"What do you do for the girls?"