Follow @neilsteinbergThere’s no need to worry now that Donald Trump has nominated conservative Colorado judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, with an eye on overturning Roe v. Wade, and could name additional conservative justices in the future. You live here in the good old blue state of Illinois. Hillary Clinton country. Your ability to control your own body won’t be threatened, not like that of all those poor women in Texas and Indiana and other backwaters.
Ladies, meet 720 Illinois Criminal Statue 510, as described in the Abortion Law of 1975. The bill grudgingly admits that abortion is legal, for the moment, but restates Illinois’ belief that a fetus is a full human being from the moment of conception, and declares:
“. . . if those decisions of the United States Supreme Court are ever reversed or modified or the United States Constitution is amended to allow protection of the unborn then the former policy of this State to prohibit abortions unless necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life shall be reinstated.”
In layman’s terms: the moment Roe is overturned, abortions are banned in Illinois unless the mother’s life is at risk, one of four states to share what legislators call a “trigger law.” The other states are Kentucky, Louisiana and South Dakota.
If you’ve never heard of it, join the club.
Follow @neilsteinberg“Very few people know,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “The reaction is the kind of shock and disbelief you might imagine. It is the virtual smack up side the head.”
“If the Supreme Court ever overturns Roe, immediately in the state of Illinois all abortions become illegal and criminalized,” said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, who has introduced House Bill 40 into the General Assembly to void the trigger law. “To get ahead of what might be a nightmare scenario for women in this state, we should strike those words. We need to be ready in case the worst happens, the unthinkable.”
The bill also removes provisions in Illinois law that deny insurance coverage for an abortion to women who depend on Medicaid and State Employee Health Insurance. Fifteen other states already provide such funding.
Why wasn’t this done years ago?
“People never took it seriously when we would raise it in the past,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “But people are taking it seriously now.”
“I think if we had tried to do it in the past, even the recent past, we would be a laughingstock because [overturning Roe] was never going to happen,” said Kelly. “We would have had same reaction: ‘Why are you fixing something that’s not broken?’ We knew it wasn’t fine, and we’re here now. Now it is an emergency. ”
The good news is that Gorsuch only replaces Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. His replacement will return the court to the balance it already had. But liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 and Anthony Kennedy — a conservative who experts believe wouldn’t vote to overturn Roe v. Wade — is 80. What if Trump should last four or eight years?
“We’re very concerned,” said Brigid Leahy, director of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “If Trump has the ability to appoint another justice, we do not want to wait to see what happens. We want to make sure abortion stays safe and legal in Illinois.”
What are the bill’s chances?
“We’re hoping,” said Feigenholtz. “We’re going to call this bill in committee as soon as they convene, in early February.”
“I really hope that some of the more moderate folks who have said over the years, ‘I can’t be with you on this, I would never let it become illegal,’ meant it, because I’m coming back to them now and I expect their vote,” said Kelly.
This affects women, not only in Illinois, but surrounding states.
“Illinois is a safe haven for women,” said Leahy. “We have already seen over the last 10 years, a very concerted nationwide effort to pass state level restrictions that make it so difficult for women to obtain abortions. They’re already leaving their home states, coming here to Illinois. Planned Parenthood sees women from surrounding states. Iowa and Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky. It ends up being easier for them to travel to Springfield.”
And should readers be moved to try to act on this, what should they do?
“Call their state representatives,” Feigenholtz said. “Make sure their legislators are supporting HB 40. This is going to be the most important piece of women’s legislation in this general assembly.”
“We are working all day and all night to pass this bill so that women in this state can have access to save and legal abortions,” she continued. “We are not going backwards. We are not. We just can’t. We’re going to fight to the end on this.”
Here we disagree. We obviously are going backwards. We just elected President Backwards, who is going to sign pieces of paper until the country marches back with him into their imagined past. The question now is: how far?