Editorial: In Trump era, keep abortion safe and legal in Illinois

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Thousands of people rallied on Constitution Avenue in Washington last month for the March for Life. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Follow @csteditorialsUnder President Donald Trump, a national assault on Roe v. Wade and abortion rights is expected tokick into high gear.

There is a growing urgency, then, for the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner to pass a law that protectsa woman’s right to have an abortion in the event this landmark Supreme Court decision is overturned. A bill in the Illinois House, sponsored by Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, would eliminate a provision of a 1975 Illinois law that says if Roe is ever reversed, Illinois would go back to making abortions illegal unless pregnancy endangers the life of the mother.

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Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

That archaic provision, iftriggered, would tremendously diminish the rights of women in Illinois.

The 1975 law also includes a declaration that “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception” and has “a right to life.” The proposed bill would eliminate those clauses and retain language that says Illinois adheres to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which prohibited states from banning abortion.

The High Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade has been under attack by conservative state legislatures since the day the decision came down, but increasingly so in the last decade. Congressional Republicans have made repeated attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides reproductive health services, including abortions.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly said he was pro-life. At one point, he said women who undergo abortions should be punished, a remark he walked back. Days after being elected, Trump repeated his anti-abortion stand on the news program “60 Minutes” and said he would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s nominee to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has never indicated his views on the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. And there is greater fear by defenders of abortion rights about future Trump picks for the Court.

“This has forced us to go back and look at sections of the 1975 abortion law to make sure, no matter what happens, Illinois won’t revert back to criminalizing abortion,” Feigenholtz told us.

Feigenholtz’s bill also seeks to allow health insurance coverage for abortions for women on Medicaid and state employees with government-sponsored health insurance. As it stands, Feigenholtz pointed out, women who work for the city of Chicago, Cook County or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have access to abortion services through their health coverage, but state employees do not.

Feigenholtz is having trouble shoring upRepublican support, and Gov. Bruce Rauner remains noncommittal. In a meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Friday, the Republican governor said he had not studied the bill. “I’ve been very focused on these budget and economic growth issues,” he said.

Pressed as to whether he considers himself pro-choice, the governor said, “I have publicly said that I believe it’s a decision that’s best made by a woman and her physician.”

Our feelings exactly.

If denied access to safe and legal abortions, some women, especially younger women and teenagers, inevitably will put their lives in danger with risky measures to end pregnancies. Others may suffer cruel complications if forced to go forward with a dangerous pregnancy.

At a legislative committee hearing last week, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy said she had obtained an abortion because of a medical problem that would have made her infertile, DNAinfo Chicago reported. “I wanted to survive, and I wanted to maintain my fertility,” she said.

Whether to have an abortion is a woman’s private and personal choice. Politicians should never have the final say.

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