Illinois can expand its legacy as a leader on reproductive rights
As long as uninsured Illinoisans struggle to afford reproductive care, the state legislature must blaze a trail by developing programs for all those in need, regardless of medical coverage.
When Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Youth Health and Safety Act, he protected the health of hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans. The repeal of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act returns bodily autonomy to young people who are often stripped of it.
As reproductive rights continue to endure assaults across the country, Illinois is taking a historic step and setting a nationwide example.
Since 1995, the PNA has prevented minors in Illinois from accessing abortion care without notifying their parents. It’s one of dozens of similar laws across the U.S. Thirty-seven states require parental involvement for a young person to access abortion care.
These restrictive laws prevent millions of young people from accessing constitutionally protected health care. And they cause particular harm to those who face the highest barriers to care already: people of color, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
It’s often assumed that restrictive abortion laws don’t affect the AAPI community. But my organization, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, headquartered in Chicago, sees the needs and circumstances of our community first-hand.
We know that cultural stigmas make Asian teenagers less likely than their peers to discuss sex and unplanned pregnancy with their parents. They are also less likely to discuss pregnancy prevention with their doctors, partly due to fears that their conversations will not be confidential.
As a result, reports suggest Asian American women access reproductive healthcare at lower rates than white women — and they are more likely to use cheaper, less effective methods of birth control. For instance, while 89% of white women have used birth control pills, only 57% of AAPI women have done the same.
Asian American immigrants face even more challenges. Parents with limited English proficiency — a third of Asian Americans in the U.S.— may struggle to give consent, while 11 states with parental notification laws require parents to provide government-issued identification. These requirements are particularly harmful for a community that makes up 30% of all immigrants and where one of seven is undocumented.
Parental notification laws are just one of the anti-abortion restrictions Asian Americans face. In 2011 and 2015, prosecutors in Indiana targeted two Asian American women under their state’s feticide law, arguing that even a suicide attempt while pregnant could amount to a self-induced abortion. And bans against sex-selective abortions across the country have been based on anti-Asian stereotypes.
But Illinois offers a model of how states can uphold and enshrine reproductive rights. Repealing the Parental Notice of Abortion Act is the latest in a series of ground-breaking actions the state has taken to protect abortion access. In 2017, Illinois led its neighbors in extending abortion coverage in state health insurance and Medicaid. And in 2019, Gov. Pritzker signed legislation that established a “fundamental right” to abortion under the state constitution.
Such legislation is more urgent than ever — especially as neighboring states accelerate their attacks on reproductive rights. Illinois is the only state within 500 miles with a constitutionally-protected right to abortion; its nearest neighbor explicitly protecting abortion rights is New York. And nearly every state bordering Illinois has passed strict anti-abortion laws that could go into effect immediately if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or curtails Roe v. Wade.
In this way, the Prairie State has become a safe haven for those seeking reproductive healthcare in the Midwest. In 2018, almost 6,000 women visited Illinois from out-of-state for abortion care — a number that has surely increased. During the pandemic, women from Missouri began traveling to Illinois for abortion pills in droves.
The courage of these women is a clarion call for Illinois to maintain its leadership on reproductive rights — and to extend it.
As long as uninsured Illinoisans struggle to afford reproductive care, the state legislature must blaze a trail by developing programs for all those in need, regardless of medical coverage. This expansion must include everyone who accesses abortion care in the state — including those forced to come from elsewhere. Although Illinois’ Medicaid only applies to state residents, the legislature should ensure that people from out-of-state do not face additional barriers to reproductive healthcare.
Illinois’ Youth Health and Safety Act sent young people an important message: their autonomy is inviolable and their choices deserve respect. And by making full health care available to all, Illinois will secure its legacy as a leader in reproductive rights.
Sung Yeon Choimorrow is executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
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