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EDITORIAL: Illinois lawmakers must protect women’s reproductive rights

The Reproductive Health Act would keep abortion and reproductive care safe and accessible by repealing decades-old laws that restrict, and in some cases criminalize, abortion.

Pro-choice protesters gather at Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, after the March For Reproductive Freedom on May 19, 2019. - The state of Alabama passed a near-total abortion ban on May 14, 2019, one of the nation’s most restrictive bans on abortions i
A pro-choice rally in Birmingham, Alabama, after state lawmakers passed a near-total abortion ban on May 14, 2019.
Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images

The women of Illinois are waiting.

They’re waiting for lawmakers in Springfield to show that they fully support women’s reproductive rights, free of meddling interference from government.

They’re waiting, and watching, as conservative legislators elsewhere target Roe v. Wade with draconian anti-abortion laws passed by conservative lawmakers who hope to someday get rid of Roe v. Wade.

Some of those laws ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Others allow women or their doctors to be prosecuted for undergoing or performing abortions.

Illinois is solidly pro-choice, but we must ensure protections for future generations of women. Should one of those medieval laws land before a conservative Supreme Court that is eager to overturn Roe, it would threaten abortion rights here and elsewhere.

Lawmakers in Illinois need not allow that chance.

They can safeguard the reproductive rights of women in Illinois by moving quickly to pass HB 2495, the Reproductive Health Act. The bill would keep abortion and reproductive care safe and accessible by repealing decades-old laws that restrict, and in some cases criminalize, abortion.

As Colleen Connell of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois notes, most of the provisions in the state’s restrictive 1975 abortion law are under court injunction and unenforceable. On their own, those laws pose no threat to abortion rights, which we strongly support.

But the laws are on the books, and that’s a potential danger with Roe v. Wade under increasing threat.

“If Roe were to go away, some anti-abortion forces would go to court and try to lift some of those injunctions,” Connell told us. “The point is to get as complete protections as we can in place.”

New York and Vermont recently took a strong pro-choice stand by taking similar preventive steps. Women in Illinois should not be left holding their breath, hoping that none of the recent restrictive laws approved in Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and elsewhere reach the Supreme Court.

Consider the worst-case scenario, in which Roe v. Wade is overturned and the provisions of Illinois’ 1975 law that are now under court injunction go into effect. Doctors then could be charged with a felony for providing abortion care or even certain types of contraceptives. A husband would have the right to go to court to prevent his wife from having an abortion. Contraception or diagnostic tests during pregnancy could be “problematic” and difficult for women to obtain.

At stake, as Connell said, is “much more than just abortion rights.”

The proposed Reproductive Health Act also would repeal the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which put restrictions on doctors performing abortions at 20 weeks or later. And it would require private health insurance plans to cover abortions and any related care.

We’ve heard the concern that requiring private health insurance policies to include abortion coverage might drive up premiums. But it’s a basic matter of fairness. Insurers already are required to cover the costs of contraception and maternity care. And women with private health care coverage deserve the same benefits provided to female state employees and Medicaid recipients (under legislation signed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner).

There’s a bottom line here on abortion rights that should not get lost: No woman who has terminated a pregnancy made that decision lightly. When government interferes in a deeply personal choice that is rightly made only by a woman in consultation with her doctor, it does nothing but make a tough situation worse.

Lawmakers, show that you get that. Pass the Reproductive Health Act before the spring legislative session ends next week.

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