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Illinois affirms the “fundamental right” to abortion by passing a new bill

The bill repeals Illinois laws that placed restrictions on abortion, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Abortion access activists hold a sign reading “Keep your rosaries out of my ovaries” at a rally in Chicago, Illinois.
Abortion access activists rally in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

As states across the US pass laws restricting access to abortion, Illinois passed legislation declaring a pregnant person has a “fundamental right” to terminate their pregnancy and stating that a “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.”

The new legislation, passed Friday, repeals a 1975 state law that required spousal consent, waiting periods, placed restrictions on abortion facilities, and outlined procedures for pursuing criminal charges against abortion providers. The bill also rolls back some state restrictions on late-term abortions by repealing Illinois’ Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Chicago Tribune reported. Many provisions in the two newly negated laws had not been enforced due to court injunctions, according to the paper.

“We’re not going back,” said Sen. Melinda Bush, who sponsored the bill in the Illinois Senate, as she argued for the bill. “We’re not going back to coat hangers, we’re not going back to dying. We’re not going back. And I am proud to say Illinois is a beacon for women’s rights, for human rights.”

Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker said he would sign the bill, called the Reproductive Health Act; it passed the Illinois House of Representatives early last week and Friday night the Senate voted 34-20 to approve it.

Illinois lawmakers pointed to the possibility of a conservative Supreme Court majority overturning Roe v. Wade as a reason for choosing to shore up abortion rights on a state level now.

“We can no longer rely on bad law protected by federal injunctions,” said Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Cassidy told her colleagues that a medically necessary abortion in her first pregnancy saved her life and allowed her to go on to become a mother to her three sons. She also criticized Illinois’ neighboring states that have recently passed restrictive abortion laws.

“To our neighbors in Illinois who hear the news around the country and worry that this war on women is coming to Illinois, I say, not on my watch,” Cassidy said. “To the people in Missouri and Alabama and Georgia and Kentucky and Mississippi and Ohio, I say, not on my watch.”

New, restrictive abortion laws are cropping up across the country

The move to expand abortion rights in Illinois comes as states including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi have all passed laws restricting access to abortion. Lawmakers in some of those states have said they championed the restrictive laws in the hope of triggering court challenges that will force the US Supreme Court to revisit its Roe v. Wade decision, which guarantees a Constitutional right to abortion. These lawmakers believe the court’s new conservative majority will overturn Roe.

In May, Alabama passed the “Human Life Protection Act,” which criminalizes all abortion. Doctors who perform abortions under the ban could be sentenced to up to 99 years in prison unless the pregnant person faces serious health complications that place their life at risk. The law makes no exceptions for cases in which a pregnant person seeks an abortion after rape or incest.

Alabama now has the nation’s strictest abortion law, but other states have also severely narrowed abortion access through the passage of so-called “heartbeat bills” that ban abortions after doctors are able to detect a fetal heartbeat. Heartbeats can sometimes be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — before many know they are pregnant.

Ohio passed its heartbeat abortion ban in April and was quickly followed by Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Heartbeat bills in some states — like in North Dakota, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, and Mississippi — have been blocked by courts. Ohio’s ban is currently facing a legal challenge. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the parties suing to prevent the heartbeat laws from going into effect.

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund reports that so far in 2019, there have been 300 anti-abortion bills introduced in 36 states.

“This is an extremely dangerous time for women’s health all around the country,” Leana Wen, president of the Action Fund, told the Washington Post.

Anti-abortion activists hope to overturn Roe v. Wade, but last week, the Supreme Court signaled it is not quite ready to address the landmark ruling. In its decision regarding an abortion law passed by Illinois’ neighbor, Indiana, justices struck down one provision while affirming another part of the law, largely avoiding the question of whether abortion should be legal.

As Vox’s Anna North reported:

In a case involving an Indiana abortion law, the justices gave a kind of compromise ruling, according to the Washington Post. They allowed one portion of the law, which requires that fetal remains be buried or cremated, to stand. But they declined to take up another portion of the law, which bans abortions based on the fetus’s sex, race, or diagnosis of a disability. As a result, a lower court’s decision to strike that portion of the law will stand, and the ban will not go into effect.

The decision was hotly anticipated because if the Court had decided to hear the case, it could have been an opportunity for the justices to revisit Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established Americans’ right to an abortion. Abortion opponents around the country are eager to see the Court overturn the decision, but previous moves have suggested that the justices aren’t ready to weigh in yet. Tuesday’s decision was more of the same.

But in a concurring statement, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Court would need to make a decision soon on laws like Indiana’s. His words were a reminder that while a Supreme Court battle over abortion isn’t happening today, it might not be far in the future.

The laws are also having the effect of limiting access to abortion. In Missouri, which last week passed a law banning abortion after eight weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest, there is only one abortion provider left. And that provider — a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis — was almost forced to close after state lawmakers refused to renew its license, citing its “deficient practices.” The state said that if all of its physicians submitted to interviews, it might be able to keep its license; however, doctors refused to comply for fear the interviews could lead to criminal prosecutions, North reported.

A judge’s temporary restraining order issued Friday will keep the clinic open — for now. The next hearing in the case comes on June 4; should Planned Parenthood lose its case, the people of Missouri will have to travel to another state, like Illinois, for abortion care.

Other states in addition to Illinois are working to protect access to abortion rights. Some 13 states including New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Nevada have proposed bills to include a right to abortion in their Constitutions. While many of those efforts are still in their early stages, Vermont passed a bill to include the protection in its Constitution last week.

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