She had been through a few years of painful fertility treatments. If something didn’t work soon, she was going to have to face the possibility she never would have children.
And then came an indication that one of the eggs might be developing, but something just didn’t seem right. So, they waited and waited and worried. And then the doctor checked and determined there was a fertilized egg, but it was implanted in a fallopian tube and there also was a blighted ovum in the uterus. She chose to have an abortion.
She is state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat. Cassidy chose to share her experience last week during a committee hearing on HB 40, a bill that seeks to maintain legal abortion in Illinois should President Trump succeed in seeing Roe v. Wade overturned. Other lawmakers at the hearing noted Illinois could lose up to $12 million in annual federal Medicaid funding if it chooses to defy federal law to make abortion available to poor women beyond current exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Bob Gilligan, director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, asked lawmakers to spend time and money, instead, on supporting pregnant women by helping them access child care and other services.
And then Cassidy spoke up. “There are a lot of new folks, but most of you have met my boys. They spend a lot of time here,” Cassidy said. “They wouldn’t be here if not for access to safe and legal abortion and appropriate insurance coverage for that abortion.
“Those three boys, who we all have watched grow up, who are my life, wouldn’t exist. I had to have that abortion to preserve my fertility. I didn’t want to have an abortion. I wanted to have those two babies. I wanted to survive and I wanted to maintain my fertility. I had the ability because of excellent insurance coverage. I want everyone in the state to have the choices I had to have my babies, to have their babies, to have their life.”
At the time of her abortion about 17 years ago, Cassidy was a Cook County employee, not a state employee, she said in an interview a few days after her committee hearing comments. “I wasn’t a state employee at that time, nor was I poor and dependent on Medicaid. I was a county employee. … I didn’t have to wonder, could I take this approach. I had the right coverage to allow it. It was awful. It was awful. The joy of actually being able to achieve a pregnancy” was lost.
State Rep. Sheri Jesiel, a north suburban Republican, asked in the hearing about whether the state really should be removing language that declares that the General Assembly believes an unborn child is a human being from the time of conception.
Did Cassidy think of her pregnancy as a human life? “No, I think of that pregnancy as a medical condition that could have ended mine,” she said. “I wasn’t actually functionally pregnant. That’s what choice is. The choice to seek pregnancy and to continue a pregnancy … and the choice to terminate a pregnancy that you can’t continue. Choice is about my beliefs are my beliefs and yours are yours. We’re going to leave this person to make theirs.”
Cassidy said she was taken aback by the number of people who praised her courage for sharing her story.
“Literally, everyone knows someone who has had an abortion. They just don’t know it,” she said. “We’ve created this shameful image of who utilizes these services that is wholly inaccurate. … It exists because it’s needed.”
It’s not the first time Cassidy has shared personal information about herself others might not. She was talking about her three sons, Josh, Daniel and Ethan, and her life as a lesbian lawmaker back when she and others were working to pass gay marriage in Illinois a few years ago.
“I challenge their image of a mother to begin with. It is important that we come out and it is important that we talk about it, but not everybody is safe or free to do that, so it’s my responsibility,” she said.
“This is who I am. I’m not going to pretend to be something other than who I am. I’m not going to put on some sort of mask and not be myself.” she said, “and if I ever find myself doing this job in a way that is less than 100 percent authentic, then I need to not be doing it anymore. This is how I want to operate in the world, largely because this is how I want my kids to operate in the world and I want to set that example.”
Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.
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