Ensuring continued access to abortions in Illinois for women moved forward as the state House of Representatives in a 64-50 vote approved the proposed Reproductive Health Act.
The RHA would block Illinois from intruding in a woman’s decision to carry a pregnancy to term, opt for an abortion procedure or any other reproductive health care choice and, should she feel this right was violated, it creates an avenue for her to bring a lawsuit. The legislation additionally bars local governmental bodies from impairing access to contraception or procedures such as abortion but allows them to pass rules strengthening reproductive health care.
The legislation comes as other states, including Missouri, seek to restrict abortion access.
“Today, Illinois says we’re better than this war on women, Illinois says we trust women,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, the legislation’s chief sponsor in the House
The legislation still needs to be passed by the state Senate, where Democrats hold a supermajority, and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker for it to become law. Pritzker has previously said he wants Illinois to be the most progressive state when it comes to abortion rights.
“As a lifelong advocate of a woman’s right to choose, I applaud the House for passing the Reproductive Healthcare Act and urge the Senate to take swift action on this critical piece of legislation,” Pritzker said. “With reproductive healthcare under attack across the country, we must do everything in our power to protect women’s rights in Illinois.”
Passsage of the RHA in the House came on the same day as the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis says it may lose its license to perform abortions. The St. Louis Planned Parenthood location is the only clinic in Missouri that provides abortions.
That news may lead to more women coming to Illinois for an abortion, officials at Hope Clinic in Granite City said.
About half of Hope Clinic’s patients are from Missouri, with 40 to 45 percent from Illinois, and 5 to 10 percent from elsewhere, said Alison Dreith, the clinic’s deputy director.
Dreith said after Missouri instituted a 72-hour mandatory waiting period for abortion in 2014, more and more people came to Hope Clinic, especially in the last two years.
“We do expect to see an increase should this dark time come to Missouri and could become first state in country with no health center that provides abortion care,” Dreith said.
Since 2014, the number of out-of-state residents coming to Illinois to have an abortion has increased, according to statistics from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In 2014, 2,970 out-of-state residents came to Illinois to have an abortion. In 2017, it was 5,528, according the IDPH. Statistics from 2018 are not expected to be available until November or December as processing the data and records takes time, said Melaney Arnold, the public information officer for the IDPH.
Dreith added Missouri has been chipping away to access form abortion care for last 46 years.
“I think the people who are really defiant are never going to change their minds,” Dreith said.
Hope Clinic in Granite City is the only clinic in Illinois south of Springfield to provide both medication and surgical forms of abortion. The Planned Parenthood location in Fairview Heights provides medication for abortion.
“I do see patients every day that really wanted to be pregnant where something is terribly wrong, have to get an abortion, post viability, to save the life of the mother,” Dreith said.
Dreith said if people want to reduce the number of abortions, there needs to be increased access to comprehensive sex education, birth control and paid family leave.
“Those are things that help the well being of women and babies,” Dreith said.
Abortion debate in Illinois, other states
The pending end of abortion services in St. Louis comes as Illinois debates whether to adopt the Reproductive Health Act, which passed the House on Tuesday.
Dreith said if the RHA weren’t passed, women may only be able to go to Colorado, New York or California to have an abortion. She added women in the Midwest and south are looking to Illinois to pass the legislation to ensure access to women’s reproductive healthcare.
The measure comes as states such as Missouri and Alabama have enacted strict abortions restrictions. Missouri’s law bans abortions after eight weeks.
Alabama enacted a law, which would imprison doctors for performing abortions except to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.” Attempts to include exemptions for rape or incest failed in Alabama.
Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Iowa have enacted “heartbeat bills” that ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Federal judges have stopped the laws in Mississippi, Kentucky and Iowa from being in enforced.
Arkansas and Utah passed laws to ban abortion after 18 weeks.
Illinois House speaker Mike Madigan said laws passed in Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri are being pushed by extreme politicians as an assault on women’s rights.
“Even more states are poised to follow. Their goal is clear: To overturn Roe v. Wade and strip away federal protections for women’s health. And if they succeed Illinois women could face many of the same life-threatening restrictions,” Madigan said. “By passing the Reproductive Health Act, we ensure women’s health will always be a fundamental right in Illinois. This vote makes it clear that Illinois women will always have the right to make their own medical decisions – regardless of what Donald Trump, his right-wing judges and extreme politicians in other states do.”
Illinois’ bill would remove restrictions on abortions later in pregnancy and remove the state’s ban on partial birth abortion. However a federal ban on partial birth abortion remains in place. It repeals the abortion procedure refusal act.
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville objected to the measures in the bill, including the removal of criminal penalties against a doctor who performs an abortion when there is a reasonable possibility of the survival of the fetus outside the womb.
“A new law to further expand abortion is unnecessary given the fact that abortion remains legal,” Meier said. “I support the rights of the unborn at every stage. This bill further diminishes the rights of the unborn. I do not support making Illinois one of the most liberal abortion governments in the nation.”
The Catholic Conference said passage of the RHA in the House is “a grave tragedy and a collective moral failing.”
“This Act is an extreme measure, allowing for the abortion of unborn life at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason,” the conference said in a statement. “It sends a message to everyone in our state that life is cheap. This is a truly sad day for Illinois. We will continue to make our case against such callous disregard for human life whenever it appears in society.”
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, who asked numerous questions on behalf of the Republican caucus on Tuesday, said the bill is not about protecting abortion rights.
“This is not about keeping abortion legal in Illinois,” Bourne said. “This about a massive expansion that impact viable babies, and that is wrong.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said the legislation is was a dishonest guise of cleaning up Illinois law.
“In just a few short years, the Democrat party in Illinois went from advocating ‘safe, legal and rare’ to abortion on-demand, at any time, for any reason, and funded by taxpayers,” Schneider said. “This is not the typical pro-life vs. pro-choice debate I have been accustomed to in my lifetime. The RHA goes much further. It’s an extreme bill that functionally eliminates any and all restrictions for the termination of a life up until the moment of birth.”
Rebecca Anzel from Capital News Illinois contributed to this article.
How metro-east legislators voted
State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey: No
State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis: Yes
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: No
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No
State Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville: No
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville: Yes
State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City: No