After emotional debate, Illinois House OKs abortion-rights measure

In tears, state Rep. Avery Bourne, who is pregnant, warned the measure is a “massive expansion that will impact viable babies.”

SHARE After emotional debate, Illinois House OKs abortion-rights measure
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, left, and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, right, D-Chicago, stake out opposing sides during the May 28 Illinois House debate on the abortion bill. Screen images.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, left, and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, right, D-Chicago, stake out opposing sides in Tuesday’s House vote on the abortion bill.

Screen images.

In response to abortion bans in other states and to codify current practices should Roe V. Wade be overturned, the Illinois House on Tuesday approved an expansive abortion bill sponsors say will strengthen the state’s current laws.

In tears, State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, who is pregnant, called the measure a “massive expansion that will impact viable babies.”

“And that is wrong,” Bourne said.

Democrats, in turn, said the legislation is essential, with Roe v. Wade in danger; they worry women will not have access to reproductive health care in Illinois should the Supreme Court decision be overturned.

The measure cleared the state House with a 64-50 vote. Six Democrats voted no and four others voted present.

Just before legislators voted after more than two hours of debate, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, framed the vote as a way to stand up to abortion bans.

“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, D-Chicago, said. “To the people in Missouri and Alabama and Georgia and Kentucky and Mississippi and Ohio, I say, not on my watch.”

Sponsors introduced the measure in February, where it stood in a committee for months. But in light of laws restricting access to abortions in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri and Ohio, Democratic legislators and other advocates pushed forward new language that would preserve reproductive health as a “fundamental right.” The green light was given after a lengthy Democratic caucus last week.

The legislation was intended to repeal several decades-old abortion-related provisions in state law.

The measure would repeal the state’s current abortion law, adopted in 1975. In its place would be language in which certain elements are removed, such as: spousal consent; criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions; waiting periods; and other restrictions on facilities where abortions are performed. The updated legislation, which passed a House committee on Sunday, also clarifies the definitions of viability and health.

A new provision says abortions can be performed after viability only if necessary to protect the health or life of the pregnant woman. It also defines the viability as the fetus having a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus without extraordinary medical measures.

Cassidy told lawmakers the measure is essential since “efforts to undermine reproductive rights have been constant.”

“We have seen in recent days and weeks, these attacks have been increasing dramatically. They are focused and strategic and aimed at undermining our right to bodily autonomy and self-determination,” Cassidy said.

The Reproductive Health Act also includes language that treats abortion as health care.

Many provisions of the state’s 1975 abortion law have been enjoined by the courts, including criminal penalties for doctors who offered abortion care. The new law also repeals the Partial Birth Abortion ban, which imposed restrictions on doctors performing abortions on women who were 20 weeks pregnant or later. The American Civil Liberties Union says about 90 percent of all abortions are performed within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

Partial-birth abortions remain banned by federal law, except to save the life of the mother. The new measure does not change factors around partial birth abortions, Cassidy said.

Cassidy told lawmakers claims that doctors can perform abortions at any stage of the pregnancy are “medically and factually incorrect.” It allows for doctors to make their own professional decision if a patient’s health is at risk, which is already in current state law.

During a House Republican caucus, lawmakers decided to let Bourne handle the bulk of the debate.

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State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond.

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For about 45 minutes, Bourne questioned Cassidy on everything from the meaning of a “fundamental right” to parental notification to what an “extraordinary medical measure” is.

Bourne offered examples, such as whether a baby at 36-weeks could be terminated if an ultrasound shows a “hole in their heart.” She also described whether a sick baby being flown to a neo-natal intensive care unit would be considered an “extraordinary medical measure.”

“This broadens their ability to make that decision,” Bourne said.

Cassidy said legislators “can’t and should not be hearing hypotheticals.”

“Lawmakers are not doctors. Doctors need to use the accepted standard of clinical care and to make their decision to the best of their knowledge,” Cassidy said.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy addresses questions during Tuesday’s House debate.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy addresses questions during Tuesday’s House debate.

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“We are talking about the most expansive bill we have seen in this state,” Bourne said in tears, surrounded by her female Republican colleagues. “We already know that we’ve got women coming to Illinois to have abortions because we are so expansive on this issue. That will continue. This bill is not about keeping abortion legal in Illinois. This is about a massive expansion that will impact viable babies. And that is wrong.”

One part of the measure would have repealed a provision — which is already blocked by the courts — that provides for criminal penalties for doctors providing abortion care to patients.

The repeal was mentioned in a report by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Equality, Equity and Opportunities transition team, which recommended “the new administration should take action to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible in Illinois.”

Sponsors in March also filed a bill that would end the requirement that minors without parental consent go before a judge to gain healthcare approval for an abortion. That legislation did not move forward.

Pritzker applauded the passage and urged the Illinois Senate to act quickly.

“With reproductive healthcare under attack across the country, we must do everything in our power to protect women’s rights in Illinois,” the governor said in a statement.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan said in a statement that the bill’s passage “will ensure women’s health will always be a fundamental right in Illinois.”

“The vote makes it clear that Illinois women will always have the right to make their own medical decisions – regardless of what Donald Trump, his right-wing judges and extreme politicians in other states do,” Madigan said in a statement.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois applauded the passage, saying it “responds to this threat by recognizing reproductive health care as a fundamental right, and by removing outdated, long-blocked statutes that make many forms of abortion care and contraceptives a crime.”

“House members made clear that Roe v. Wade and protections for reproductive freedom — is under threat today as never before — with more than 20 cases in the federal court pipeline aimed at crippling or reversing Roe,” ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell said in a statement.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois, in turn, called the passage “a grave tragedy and a collective moral failing.”

“This Act is an extreme measure, allowing for the abortion of unborn life at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason,” the Catholic Conference of Illinois said in a statement. “It sends a message to everyone in our state that life is cheap. This is a truly sad day for Illinois. We will continue to make our case against such callous disregard for human life whenever it appears in society.”

Illinois Right to Life Action called the measure “extreme.”

“No words can express the disappointment and heartache pro-life Illinoisans, like myself, are feeling,” said Ralph Rivera, an Illinois Right to Life Action spokesman. “The incredible grassroots efforts of Illinois citizens who worked against this bill was astounding and makes it clear that we were in the majority. Representative Avery Bourne’s defense of life and women on the House floor today was a testament to the truth of what we stand for, and I thank her for that.”

The measure now heads to the Illinois Senate. The legislative session ends on Friday.

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