Doubek: Brace for return of culture wars to Illinois

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State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz,12th district Illinois House incumbent. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Follow @MDoubekRebootILPolitical debate in Illinois for the past few years primarily has been about debt, budgets and unions, but we could be returning to a time of culture wars with abortion, immigration and marriage equality back in the spotlight with the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Abortion coverage for poor women might be the first to come up. State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat, has had HB4013 drafted since early 2015. The legislation would explicitly make it legal for poor women in Illinois to receive insurance coverage for abortion.

Feigenholtz said she intends to push a plan that would strike language in Illinois barring federal funding for abortions for Medicaid recipients, as well as current law that says should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned “then the former policy of this State to prohibit abortions unless necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life shall be reinstated.”


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Feigenholtz had considered pushing for passage during the November veto session, but several Democrats were absent, making passage unlikely. She said she won’t call the bill during the two remaining days before the 100th General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 11 just before Trump is inaugurated, but will pursue passage next year.

Trump has said repeatedly that he will appoint abortion opponents to the U.S. Supreme Court, acknowledging that could result in the Roe decision being overturned. In the third debate, Trump said, “Well, if that would happen, because I am pro-life, and I will be appointing pro-life judges, I would think that that will go back to the individual states.”

Feigenholtz said the need for her legislation was reinforced for her when 400 people “alarmed about choice, immigration, the Dream Act and marriage equality” turned out last week at a constituent meeting she hosted with two other representatives.

“I look at it as an insurance parity issue,” Feigenholtz said. “There’s no excuse about the cost,” she said, noting that the state’s health care department first said the bill would cost $1.3 million, but revised that outlook because terminating a pregnancy is less costly than delivering a child.

State Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican, said he would think passage of the bill would be easier before four more Republicans are sworn in. He opposes it and believes momentum is for taxpayers to continue not funding most abortions. “It seems that for 30-plus years since the Hyde Amendment was put into law in Republican administrations and Democratic administrations there have been arguments about it, but it’s been pretty well established. It’s been almost as accepted as Roe v. Wade itself. The general consensus is that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for it except in rare circumstances,” he said.

A national group called Catholics for Choice launched a campaign last summer attempting to change that, saying it is “dedicated to amplifying the voices of Catholics across the country who want abortion to be accessible and affordable for everyone.”

Locally, last fall Chicago papers featured a full-page ad with a color portrait of former state Rep. Kathy Ryg of Vernon Hills talking about how elected officials need to hear from residents “to ensure that women who are not well off are not financially burdened by the choices they make.”

Ryg’s been out of public office for several years now. What prompted her to take such a public position? “It wasn’t a tough decision for me as far as was this the right thing,” said Ryg, a mother of four and grandmother of eight. “It is the right thing to do to stand up for women who don’t get access to a legal, medical procedure.”

Ryg had some difficult conversations at her church when she first revealed as a lawmaker that she favored women’s access to abortion. “People need to understand ‘informed conscience’ is the foundation of the church — complexities exist in everything and it’s not the rule just because. One decides for themselves based on their faith,” she said.

More lawmakers and citizens might want to be ready to make their arguments on the thorny social issues in our communities as Trump takes office. He has said same-sex marriage is “settled,” but his views on abortion and immigration have plenty of people strategizing.

“It’s insane we do this to people,” said Terry Cosgrove, president and CEO of the abortion rights group Personal PAC. “It’s not right to do this particularly to poor women who are trying to feed and clothe themselves and pay an electric bill to try to make them scrape together enough money for an abortion.”

But Morrison, noting Gov. Bruce Rauner has avoided this and other social issues, said, “When does life begin? People are starting to think about this question with greater clarity because we have a window now into the womb.”

Conversely, Feigenholtz argues access to education and full health-care coverage gives women a path to economic stability. “By any means possible,” Feigenholtz said, “we’re going to get it done. People are scared.”

Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.

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