SPRINGFIELD — Democratic lawmakers, surrounded by a coalition of advocates, announced plans to expand state reproductive rights at a news event Tuesday in Chicago.
The effort would build upon a law passed two years ago which allowed tax dollars to be spent on abortion procedures.
Sens. Melinda Bush and Elgie Sims, Jr., and Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Emanuel “Chris” Welch have not officially proposed language yet — the deadline for doing so is Friday — but the group said their measures would “modernize” the state’s abortion law and repeal another law which requires a minor to consult her parent before terminating a pregnancy.
The announcement of their two forthcoming bills follows a vow Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker made last month to “make Illinois the most progressive state in the nation for access to reproductive health care,” his spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.
The first bill would repeal Illinois’ abortion law, passed in 1975, and replace it with the “Reproductive Health Act,” which would bring state reproductive health care laws up to date, according to a news release.
The measure would also require private insurance companies operating in Illinois to “cover abortion care on the same basis as contraception, fertility and maternity care.”
When Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 40 into law, it required tax dollars to be spent on abortion procedures through Illinois’ Medicaid and state employee health insurance programs.
Soon after, attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. The latest court documents, in which lawyers asked the Illinois Supreme Court to take up the case, were filed in December.
Republican Sen. Dan McConchie, from Hawthorn Woods, said this aspect of the proposal forces everyone paying for the insurance policy — employers, employees, insurance companies — to “participate financially in abortions of other people who are part of the policy.”
“There’s no freedom of conscience to opt out of that,” he said.
The Democratic lawmakers’ bill would also remove criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions. Colleen Connell, executive director of the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said this would remove a “dangerous” part of existing law.
“The reason doctors aren’t going to prison today for providing abortions and prescribing certain forms of birth control is because the ACLU has gone to court time and again and secured more than 14 injunctions blocking the enforcement of these dangerous laws,” she said at a news event Tuesday.
The current law specifies a multitude of instances for which a physician who performs an abortion commits a felony.
The lawmakers’ measure would additionally lift a state ban on partial-birth abortion procedures.
“The Reproductive Health Act recognizes that abortion care is health care, not criminal activity as designated by the current law,” according to a news release. “The bill seeks to treat abortion care like all health care, with regulations that reflect current medical standards.”
The second piece of legislation the four lawmakers plan to file would repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995, which requires a minor to consult with her parent or guardian before terminating a pregnancy.
There are exceptions in the current law if the minor is a victim of sexual abuse or neglect by an adult family member, and minors currently have an avenue to petition the circuit court to issue a waiver of notification.
According to the law, “Parental consultation is usually in the best interest of the minor and is desirable since the capacity to become pregnant and the capacity for mature judgment concerning the wisdom of an abortion are not necessarily related.”
But the sponsors of this legislation argued Tuesday the state should not legislate “the details of family life.”
“It never made sense to me that a minor can make other decisions — about carrying a pregnancy to term, about adoption, about sophisticated health care — without parental notification, but only if she seeks an abortion do we require this communication,” Welch said. “We cannot pretend as elected officials that we can force ourselves into these situations because some disagree with a minor’s decision about their life.”
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the number of abortion procedures undergone by minors decreased each year since the Parental Notice Act went into effect.
“Most people believe a decline in the number of abortions is a good thing,” McConchie said. “I think that the effort to repeal Parental Notice tells parents one thing—you don't really matter in your child's life.”
March for Life Chicago Board of Directors President Dawn Fitzpatrick said she is also opposed to the repeal of this law.
“It is unbelievable that the ACLU is joining Planned Parenthood in advocating to allow a child to make an irrevocable decision to kill another child without even a consultation with her parents,” she said in an email.
These two initiatives are mirrored by recommendations made by Pritzker’s Equality, Equity, and Opportunities transition team. In its report, published last week, the group called for the governor’s administration to “take action to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible” by repealing both laws targeted by the proposals introduced by Bush, Sims, Cassidy and Welch.
It appears the four lawmakers have the governor’s support. His spokeswoman said in an email Pritzker is a “lifelong advocate of women’s rights” and “looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”
But it is unlikely the four Democrats will find much support across the aisle. They have not yet begun conversations with their conservative colleagues, Cassidy said, and the Republican caucuses were not in favor of House Bill 40.
McConchie did not speak to the Democrats’ first proposed bill, but did say he had not heard of any member of his party supporting the repeal of the Parental Notice Act.
“The days of the Democratic Party being a party of abortion being safe, legal and rare are clearly over,” he said generally of the measures. “This is not just support for abortion — this is enthusiastic support for it.”
Although the Democrats do not need Republican support to approve these bills — the party has a supermajority in both chambers — Cassidy added she hopes to achieve a bipartisan vote.
“I don’t think I’ve ever passed a bill without Republican support — I hope this doesn’t break my streak,” she said. “We have elected the most significant pro-choice majority in my lifetime in Illinois and I’m looking forward to the support of my colleagues from wherever they come.”
Advocacy groups at the news event Tuesday included the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Personal PAC, Chicago Abortion Fund and EverThrive Illinois.