Heated battle likely will not stop abortion bill

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Sponsors say updates to law long overdue; opponents say rights to object will be lost

By REBECCA ANZEL, Capitol News Illinois

Illinois is poised to provide greater access to reproductive health care and abortion procedures than any other state in the country.

Proponents and opponents agree passage of the Reproductive Health Act, repealing and replacing current abortion law, is a near certainty. It would fulfill a promise by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to turn the Prairie State into “the most progressive state in the nation for access to reproductive health care.”

It would also, detractors say, create a series of unintended, undesirable consequences.

There seems little doubt Democrats will have a legislative victory in the matter. The party holds a supermajority in both chambers of the 101st General Assembly, with 29 more seats than Republicans in the House and 21 seats more in the Senate.

“Right now, this bill is passing,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, a conservative, pro-life law firm.

The House version has more than 40 sponsors. The Senate version has nine.

Leading the push in the House are Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Emanuel “Chris” Welsh. The Senate’s main sponsors are Sens. Melinda Bush and Elgie Sims, Jr.

The measure will not be successful without a philosophical fight initiated by those on the right; or, likely, without Illinois being thrust into the national political spotlight — much like New York was after its state legislature approved a controversial bill with a name identical to the one Illinois’ General Assembly will consider.

Breen said the Thomas More Society will likely challenge some aspect of it in court, and it is probable other conservative legal groups will as well.

CURRENT LAW

Illinois’ current abortion statute was passed into law in 1975. Legislators wrote their objective was to “reasonably regulate” abortion procedures to adhere with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

Since then, though, courts have struck down several aspects of the Abortion Law, such as a ban on fetal experimentation, a prohibition on sex-selective abortion procedures, and a provision allowing the husband of a woman seeking the procedure to receive a court order barring her from doing so.

WHAT’S IN THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH ACT

This new legislation would repeal current abortion law and replace it with language enshrining reproductive health as a “fundamental right.”

As is written in the measure, “This Act sets forth the fundamental rights of individuals to make autonomous decisions about one’s own reproductive health, including the fundamental right to use or refuse reproductive health care.”

The Reproductive Health Act is filed as twin pieces of legislation in both chambers of the General Assembly.

The push for House Bill 2495 is being led by Cassidy, from Chicago, and Welch, from Hillside.

Senate Bill 1942 is sponsored by Bush, from Grayslake, and Sims, from Chicago.

The Reproductive Health Act prohibits the state from intruding in a woman’s reproductive health care decision-making, whether that be choosing to carry a pregnancy to term or opting for an abortion procedure. It creates an avenue for a woman to bring a lawsuit should she feel this right was violated. The law also allows local governments to write ordinances strengthening reproductive health care, but bars them from weakening access to such procedures as abortion.

The proposed legislation additionally requires health care professionals to file a report with the Department of Public Health of each abortion procedure they perform. This requirement, though, is less specific than the current statute, which mandates the type of information to be collected and reported.

The Act exempts these reports from Freedom of Information requests. Criminal penalties for doc- tors who perform abortions are removed from the proposal.

THE OPPOSITION

The Thomas More Society in a memorandum takes issue with a mandate that private insurance companies operating in Illinois would have to cover abortion procedures if they also provide pregnancy-related benefits. The conservative group is concerned that groups that oppose abortion for religious, moral or other reasons but purchase insurance policies would be forced to provide coverage for the procedure. They are also concerned that those who participate in the policy — the insurance company, employers, employees — have no way to opt out.

WHAT’S NEXT

Although Democrats do not need Republican support to send the Reproductive Health Act to Pritzker’s desk, where he will likely sign it into law, Cassidy and Sims both indicated they would like 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,” Cassidy said at a news event in Chicago when the four chief sponsors of the legislation announced their intention to file this legislation.

 

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