Politics & Government

Pritzker signs Reproductive Health Act, making Illinois most progressive state on abortion

During the last two weeks, Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City has prepared to add more staff because of the possibility of the only abortion clinic in Missouri closing. The Illinois clinic, where about half of the patients are from Missouri, expects to see even more women come from out of state.

“We’ve been going through a lot over the past two weeks as we wait and prepare for the last remaining abortion facility in Missouri to maybe close its doors,” said Alison Dreith, the clinic’s deputy director.

Now Hope Clinic, the only clinic south of Springfield in Illinois that performs both medication and surgical abortions, has permanent protection to continue practicing after Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday signed the Reproductive Health Act, legislation aimed at protecting abortion rights in Illinois.

In doing so, the new law makes Illinois the most-progressive state in the country when it comes to women’s reproductive health rights and access to abortions.

“Illinois is taking a giant step forward for women’s health,” Pritzker said during the signing ceremony in Chicago. “Today we proudly proclaim that in this state we trust women. In Illinois we guarantee as a fundamental right, a woman’s right to choose.”

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.

During the signing ceremony, Pritzker said the RHA enshrines practices that reflect current court rulings and practices in the state.

Pritzker signing the bill comes at a time when other states have passed legislation seeking to limit abortion rights with hopes of eventually having a case make it to the U.S. Supreme Court and potentially overturning Roe v. Wade. The high court has become increasingly conservative since it made abortion legal in 1973.

Missouri recently enacted the so-called “heartbeat ban,” which prohibits abortions after eight weeks. The state may lose its only clinic that performs abortion — Planned Parenthood in St. Louis — as there is a dispute over whether the group’s license will be renewed. The license lapsed on May 31, but a judge has ruled the clinic can stay open for now.

In his remarks, Pritzker listed states that have passed stricter abortion laws, and even specifically mentioned the controversy over the St. Louis Planned Parenthood.

“More and more Missouri women are being forced to travel to Illinois and Kansas to exercise their rights and access care. Make no mistake about it ... abortion bans don’t ban abortion, they just endanger women,” Pritzker said.

In recent years, the number of women coming to Illinois from out of state to have abortions has increased from 2,970 in 2014 to 5,528 in 2017 according to Illinois Department of Public Health statistics.

“All of us want to see the rights of women codified across this nation, want to see a Supreme Court that validates women, says that women are the ones we should be standing up for,” Pritzker said. “All of us believe that the state of Missouri and the rest of the states that have passed laws taking away women’s rights should change their minds, should revisit the issue. Illinois knows where we stand and we’re going to be here from women if they have to be refugees from other states. (But) we don’t want them to be. We want women to be able to access health care where they live.”

One of those clinics women travel to is the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, which is the only clinic south of Springfield that performs both medication and surgical abortions. About half of the clinic’s patients come from Missouri.

With the controversy over that clinic, both Dreith and Hope Clinic Director Dr. Erin King decided to be at the signing ceremony of the RHA.

“With everything happening in Missouri, it was very important for Hope Clinic to be represented,” Dreith said.

House sponsor of the legislation, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said the legislation creates a “firewall” around the state to “protect access to reproductive health care for everyone.”

Conservative groups objected to the new law.

The Thomas More Society, which plans a legal challenge of the RHA, called the law extreme, saying every private insurance company would have to pay for elective abortions, removes reporting requirements for all abortions including those done on viable babies, repeals penalties for performing illegal abortions, strips away abortion conscience protections for health care workers, and eliminates existing licensing and health and safety inspections of abortion clinics.

“This law is the most radical sweeping pro-abortion measure in America and makes Illinois an abortion destination for the country. The deceptively titled ‘Reproductive Health Act’ gives our state some of the most extremely permissive abortion laws of any state in the nation,” said Peter Breen, the vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society. “The governor and the Democratic supermajorities who fast-tracked this legislation have created a new ‘death penalty’ in Illinois, with no possibility of appeal, for viable unborn preemies.”

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Peter Breen, a former state representative and vice president and senior counsel of the Chicago-based pro-life law firm, the Thomas More Society, speaks during a news event Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center. Breen said his firm will mount a legal challenge to the Reproductive Health Act, signed minutes into law minutes earlier by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He said the law creates a new “death penalty” in Illinois. Rebecca Anzel Capitol News Illinois

Think Big Illinois, which supports the new law, released the following statement:

“At a time when women’s rights are threatened by draconian legislation in multiple statehouses across our country, the Reproductive Health Act is more important than ever. Today’s signing of the Reproductive Health Act sends a strong message to women across this state and people across this country that a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions is respected and valued in Illinois,” Think Big Illinois Executive Director Quentin Fulks said.

Here’s 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

State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Cahokia: Yes

State Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon: Present

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville: No

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo: No

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.