Lightfoot signs executive order on abortion rights

The order prohibits CPD or other local government agencies from collaborating to criminalize women who come to Chicago seeking abortions banned in their home states — or medical providers and others who assist them.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago must take action to help women who travel here from other states seeking abortions.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

In 1985, then-Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order prohibiting city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws to protest the federal government’s decision to conduct random searches of city records to find and prosecute undocumented immigrants.

On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot followed a similar trail — this time, to prevent the landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade from ushering in an era of investigation and prosecution.

Lightfoot signed an executive order prohibiting the Chicago Police Department or any other agency of local government from collaborating to criminalize women who come to Chicago seeking abortions banned in their home states or medical providers and others who assist them.

The order will remain in place until September, when the Chicago City Council is expected to approve a more sweeping ordinance championed by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) and her progressive colleagues.

During a City Hall news conference Thursday, Lightfoot said it is “horrifying” to see the “race to the bottom” occurring in other states since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision.

“Not only banning abortion, but making zero exception for the health and life of a mother. Zero exception for victims of rape or incest. Never in my lifetime did I ever think that we would see the kind of horrific legislation ... gleefully being passed by states controlled by Republican legislatures,” Lightfoot said.

“We’re not gonna be complicit in living out the dreams of another state that wants to criminalize women for seeking access to health care.”

Abortion rights protesters in downtown Chicago on Friday, June 24, 2022.

Abortion rights protesters in downtown Chicago on Friday, June 24, 2022, the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling ending federal protections for abortion.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lightfoot noted the United States has a “sad history of criminalizing people who flee a state to fulfill their God-given rights to freedom.”

“I’m really thinking a lot about the fugitive slave laws that were passed earlier in our country’s history. We can’t go back to those times,” the mayor said.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, a legislative champion for abortion rights, said just because there have been no witch hunts in Chicago doesn’t mean there won’t be.

Just yesterday, Cassidy said she received “photos of an anti-abortion protester taking pictures of every license plate in a parking lot, with presumably the next goal being searching who [the owners] of those cars are and turning them in” in their states.

“This is what we’re up against. This is what we have to anticipate,” Cassidy said.

Megan Jeyifo, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, said she has already heard from women who are “terrified” about being pulled over on the drive home from Chicago.

“I have children at home. I am leaving them with a sitter. What if I get arrested and can’t get home to my kids,” Jeyifo quoted those women as saying.

The ordinance introduced by Rodriguez Sanchez would prohibit Chicago police officers from participating in investigations of women seeking abortions and those who help them unless a judge’s order compels that cooperation.

But Lightfoot said she’s concerned about “validating an order from a state court judge in one of these states where they are clearly, aggressively going after” women choosing abortion. She noted judges are elected and “feel political pressure.”

“While we will obviously deal with a court order if we get it, we’re not gonna give the same kind of presumption that we might otherwise because of the nature of how courts in some of these states have been incredibly politicized,” the mayor said.

Rodriguez Sanchez has also introduced a companion ordinance that would earmark at least $1 million from Chicago’s 2023 budget for reproductive care and clinic defense.

That’s patterned after the $1.3 million legal defense fund created by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to assist immigrants threatened with deportation after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.

Lightfoot has already earmarked $500,000 to support abortion providers and seekers.

The mayor said she needs to “work with providers to see specifically what they need” before deciding how much more money to set aside in her pre-election budget.

“One of the biggest things that … is gonna be driving the increased costs is the cost for travel and lodging. We’ve had some initial conversations about what we can and should do as a city to really offset those expenses,” she said.

“It’s early to put a number on it. We’ve got to talk more with the providers. We’ve got to see what the data is providing us. But it’s gonna be a healthy number. No question about it.”

Lightfoot said she is also “actively exploring options to support” city employees seeking abortions.

She urged the private and philanthropic sectors to do the same for their employees.

“We don’t need fancy statements. We need action,” the mayor said.

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