City Council protects abortion rights, declares Chicago ‘bodily autonomy sanctuary city’

The new ordinance prohibits Chicago police or any other agency of local government from cooperating in investigations that seek to criminalize women who come to the city seeking abortions and other reproductive care.

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

Abortion rights protesters rally in downtown Chicago on June 24, the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending federal protections for abortion.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Residents of Indiana and other states descending on Chicago for the abortions and “gender-affirming” care outlawed in their home states can soon rest assured they will not be further victimized by becoming targets of investigation.

At least not with the cooperation of Chicago police or city officials.

The City Council made certain of it by approving — without a word of debate — the Bodily Autonomy Sanctuary City Ordinance championed by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) and her progressive colleagues.

It prohibits the Chicago Police Department or any other agency of local government from cooperating in investigations that seek to criminalize women who come to Chicago seeking abortions and other reproductive care. It also shields those seeking gender-affirming care in Chicago, medical providers who treat those patients and others who help those patients, such as by providing information, transportation and housing.

Modeled after the Welcoming Cities Ordinance that has made Chicago a “sanctuary city” for undocumented residents, the ordinance also calls for expanding Chicago’s 311 nonemergency line to provide information and resources to people seeking access to abortion and gender-affirming care.

Two months ago, not long after the Supreme Court issued its ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed an executive order enacting those same protections for those seeking abortions and gender-affirming care in Chicago.

Now that the full Council has approved the ordinance, Lightfoot’s executive order, more vulnerable to a legal challenge, has been replaced by the force of law.

During an interview this week with Black Entertainment Television, Lightfoot noted that states “all around us,” including Wisconsin and Indiana, are “doing everything that they can to just completely outright ban abortion with very few exceptions. Even when it comes to saving the mother’s life.”

“I pledged that we will always be a city that respects the dignity of bodily autonomy for women. That we’re always gonna make sure our providers are able to serve women, wherever they reside, that are coming to our city to access reproductive health care services because that, to me, is a fundamental right,” Lightfoot said.

“So Chicago is always gonna be an oasis for justice for all. Not only do we make that pledge. We put our money where our mouth is. I immediately allocated $500,000 to make sure that our providers could take care of women that were traveling from other states. Travel, lodging, aftercare. And we’re gonna be making another big commitment as we go into budget season. We have to make sure that women in this country are not taken back to the pre-Roe years where they had no control over the circumstances under which they had children.”

During a committee hearing earlier this month, Rodriguez Sanchez thanked the “immigrant rights movement for giving us the blueprint” for creating a protective bubble to shield “everybody else that is in need of refuge” from city-sanctioned investigations.

“This speaks to how our struggles are interconnected and how our city is responsible for acting with solidarity toward the people that are the most marginalized and the most impacted by a system that oppresses them,” she said.

Mike Ziri, director of public policy for Equality Illinois, has argued reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights are “inextricably linked to the right to privacy, bodily autonomy and the freedom to be ourselves and build our own families without discrimination or criminalization.”

Ziri has said he “believed” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he wrote in his concurring opinion in the court’s decision to overturn Roe that the Supreme Court “should reconsider its past rulings protecting contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.”

But, Ziri added, “Attacks against LGBTQ communities are not what is next on the agenda. They’re already happening.”

“The attorney general of Texas … said he would defend any Texas law that sought to re-criminalize same-sex relationships. Also in Texas, parents of trans youth are being accused … and investigated by state government of ‘child abuse’ for affirming and supporting their trans children. Just for loving their children. And in Florida recently, the state government has ended Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care for all ages,” Ziri said.

Likewise, Brigid Leahy, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told alderpersons at that hearing there has been a “dramatic surge in patients forced to flee” abortion bans in their home states.

It’s expected to increase dramatically — with an “immediate impact” on Chicago — with Indiana’s abortion ban, she said.

“Abortion patients from other states are often confused and anxious about what the laws are here and whether or not they might be at risk of prosecution or civil action for coming to Illinois for care. This ordinance will make sure that the city’s resources are not used to further intimidate, harass and block these patients from getting the care that they need,” she said.

Alicia Hurtardo of the Chicago Abortion Fund talked about pressures facing out-of-state patients seeking refuge in Chicago:

“One woman flying from Texas across multiple state lines with her young daughter just to come to Illinois to pick up pills for her abortion, since she couldn’t access care in her home state.

“A caller drove five hours to get here from Ohio because their appointment was already canceled at home due to the implementation of a six-week ban. This caller didn’t trust making an appointment in Indiana, even though it was closer, just in case another ban was put in place, which now we know isn’t an off-base assumption to make,” she said.

“We’re here to take that logistical and financial burden off of our callers as much as we can. But protection from criminalization is something that we’re leaning on our … elected officials to provide,” Hurtardo said.

In 1985, Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order prohibiting city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws.

He made the move — setting the stage for Chicago’s sanctuary city ordinance — to protest the federal government’s decision to question people seeking city services and conduct random searches of city records in an effort to find and prosecute undocumented immigrants. That’s the playbook that Lightfoot, and now the City Council, followed.

Test program for robot delivery approved

The Council also agreed to allow robotic personal delivery devices described as “beverage coolers on wheels” to deliver restaurant meals and groceries to a broader area in and around the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

And alderpersons confirmed the appointment of Tobara Richardson to serve as the city’s deputy inspector general for public safety. Richardson serves as counsel to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on issues of social justice and equity.

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