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Abortion rights supporters move to rid state law of ‘all the really bad stuff’

Abortion rights activists call for public funding of abortions at a 1977 rally on the campus of the University of Illinois Medical Center. Sun-Times file photo by John Tweedle.

Abortion rights activists call for public funding of abortions at a 1977 rally on the campus of the University of Illinois Medical Center. Sun-Times file photo by John Tweedle.

With a Democratic governor in place who has vowed that Illinois will become “the most progressive in the nation” when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, four Democratic lawmakers plan to introduce legislation this week that would repeal several decades-old abortion-related provisions in state law.

One bill would end the requirement that minors without parental consent go before a judge to gain healthcare approval for an abortion. Another would repeal a provision — which is already blocked by the courts — that provides for criminal penalties for doctors providing abortion care to patients.

Backed by the American Civil Liberties of Illinois and Planned Parenthood of Illinois, the two measures are being introduced because abortion rights advocates want them “off the books.”  And the repeals were 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.”

“The time is unquestionably now. Both because of what’s happening nationwide with President Trump and his two successful nominations to the Supreme Court, as well as what’s happening in some of the surrounding states in which abortion and birth control continue to be singled out for really punitive treatment and continued marginalization of women’s health care. And that marginalization of women’s health care is wrong and dangerous,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.

The Reproductive Health Act would repeal the state’s abortion law adopted in 1975, and replace it with language that treats abortion as health care. Many of the provisions within that law had been enjoined by the courts, including criminal penalties for doctors who offered abortion care. The new law would also repeal the Partial Birth Abortion ban — which imposed restrictions on doctors who were performing later-term abortions on women who were 20 weeks pregnant or later. The ACLU, says about 90 percent of all abortions are performed within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

ACLU Illinois Executive Director Colleen K. Connell speaks at a press conference last year. File Photo. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

ACLU Illinois Executive Director Colleen K. Connell speaks at a press conference last year. File Photo. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The legislation would also require private insurance plans in Illinois to cover abortion care on the same basis as contraception, fertility and maternity care.

Additional provisions in the 1975 law included allowing a husband to get an injunction to prevent his wife from having an abortion, which Connell believed was not being enforced.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner in September 2017 signed into law House Bill 40, a measure to expand taxpayer funding of abortions by allowing women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions, and it ensured the procedure remained legal in Illinois. The signing sparked outrage from anti-abortion Republicans, and even spawned a Republican challenger in last year’s gubernatorial primary. Opponents argued abortions wouldn’t be made illegal in the state even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the bill was always really about expanding insurance coverage.

But abortion advocates say the new measures are the next big step.

“House Bill 40 was a very courageous and important first step, and now we’re actually moving down the path of making the vision and the values of House Bill 40 a reality,” Connell said. “We’re getting rid of all the really bad stuff.”

The second piece of legislation would repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995. While it had been blocked by the courts for years, it has been enforced since 2013.  Connell argued pregnant minors are already under duress, and forcing them to go to court to get healthcare approval for an abortion causes more stress.

“It has served no purpose except to burden the court and cause a lot of anxiety for minors who at the end of the day are found competent to make their own decisions and have an abortion,” Connell said.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who plans to sponsor the Reproductive Health Act, said she has not spoken to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan about the measures but noted the House has the “most significant pro-choice majority” since she had taken office.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board last year. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“If you landed here from Mars and tried to figure out what Illinois’ abortion law was and just went to the statutes, you’d be very confused,” Cassidy said. “You’d find it in the criminal code, which is no place for anything health related to be. … So I think it’s an important step to make clear what is and isn’t the law anymore.”

State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, plans to carry the health act provision in the Illinois Senate. State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, and State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, plan to carry the parental notice measure.

In a statement, the governor’s office said Pritzker “looks forward to reviewing the legislation and working with advocates to protect women’s rights.”