Governor JB Pritzker stands with other pro-choice Democrats at a press conference to denounce the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and turning the issue of abortion access back to the states. --Screenshot of a live-streamed event

Governor JB Pritzker stands with other pro-choice Democrats at a press conference to denounce the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and turning the issue of abortion access back to the states. --Screenshot of a live-streamed event

Abortion protected in Illinois

Lawmakers react to draft Supreme Court opinion

By Grace Kinnicutt
Capitol News Illinois

and Tim Hadac

Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois Democrats have warned of an “end to the constitutional right to privacy” if a leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade becomes finalized as precedent.

“It means women who lose access to the full suite of medical advances that give them choices in how and when they want to start a family are at risk,” Pritzker said at a morning news conference in Chicago last week.

At the same time, however, the Democrats touted a recent string of Illinois laws aimed at protecting the access to an abortion for Illinoisans and those visiting the state to receive reproductive health care.

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Governor JB Pritzker stands with other pro-choice Democrats at a press conference to denounce the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and turning the issue of abortion access back to the states. –Screenshot of a live-streamed event

In fact, the state could become a “medical tourism” destination for pregnant women from states that may outlaw abortion—in the same way that uninsured Americans often head to Mexico for affordable dental care and other procedures.

The news conference was called in response to a May 2 report from Politico that outlined the leaked draft decision that would strike down Roe v. Wade, a decision which has protected abortion rights as constitutional rights for nearly five decades.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft majority opinion that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” and the issue of regulating abortion must be returned to the states.

Pritzker said that if the ruling stands as a reversal of 50 years of settled law, the implications on privacy and health care access could be dire.

“It’s not just that they’re taking away reproductive rights,” he said. “It’s that this is a slope that they’re headed down that is going to take away all of the rights that were granted as a result of the right to privacy. It’s a constitutional right to privacy, determined by the court 50 years ago and reinforced along the way, and now they’re taking it away.”

Advocates said overturning Roe would be devastating for millions who will be forced into unwanted pregnancies and that it will lead to illegal alternatives that could put the mother’s life at risk.

Southwest Side pols react

Several elected officials serving Clearing and Garfield Ridge also weighed in on the news.

U.S. Rep. Marie Newman (D-3rd) said the leaked news “was harrowing, but it is not going to stop me — or millions of women across our nation — from standing up for everyone’s fundamental freedom and right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. For the past three decades, I have been fighting to protect women’s reproductive rights and I’m damn well not going to stop now. Now is the time for real leaders with real experience to take charge.

“Make no mistake, this decision is and has always been the end goal — the party of “small government” has been hell-bent on controlling the bodies and personal health decisions of women for decades,” Newman continued. “It is an assault on our lives, our bodies and our freedoms. I do not care how unprecedented or inappropriate this leak is, what’s critical here is how we act. It is way past time for the Senate to codify Roe V. Wade. The House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act earlier this year and now our senators have a fundamental obligation to get this done. There is no time to waste. Reform the filibuster and pass this bill immediately.”

State Senator Celina Villnueva (D-11th) said she “seethed with anger over the leaked majority opinion, and I am in fear of women’s safety and our future. This decision is a direct attack on the rights of women, which have been under assault for the majority of our nation’s history. A woman’s right to choose is fundamental, and to remove the protections set forth by the critical 1973 ruling is to create dangerous, undue burden for one of our most vulnerable populations.

“Removing this precedent would not stop people from seeking abortion, but it would make them far less safe for those who employ their inalienable bodily autonomy to decide the course of action that is best for them,” the senator continued. “I resent and reject the notion that forced birth does not amount to a violation of a person’s rights under the U.S. Constitution. This opinion will no doubt determine the trajectory of our nation and our states over the next few years. Choosing to abandon this federal protection of a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy will lead us down a dangerous path in which little by little our access to safe and supportive environments is removed until we reach a point of blatant inequality. I am infuriated at the constant exertion of power by officials who are so far removed from the lives of the people whose interests they claim to represent. They will not stop until they have total control over women and other marginalized communities, and that is disgusting, appalling and degenerate.”

State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr. (D-21st) said, “If the fight over the past half century to protect Roe and Casey is any indication, there are tireless villains who will attack the right to choose, but there are even more vigorous heroes who’ll stop at nothing to protect it. The Supreme Court may stand today against reproductive justice, but here in Illinois we stand for it.”

State Rep. Angelica “Angie” Guerrero-Cuellar (D-22nd) said simply, “I am here and ready. We are here and ready to defend the rights of all women.”

A ‘forcefield’ of abortion protection

While Democrats said overturning Roe would mark a “dark day in our nation’s history,” they also credited their party for creating a “forcefield” to guarantee a women’s right to reproductive health care in Illinois.

In 2019, Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act, enshrining in state law the fundamental right to an abortion. In December 2021, he signed a law ending a requirement that doctors must notify parents of a minor seeking an abortion 48 hours prior to the procedure.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, criticized Republicans for implying that “this wasn’t a serious matter” when they voted against abortion protections previously. Last week, he said the GOP was “eerily quiet” amid the major news.

While GOP statements to the media were sparse, some of the Republicans vying to unseat Pritzker spoke out on the issue.

GOP governor candidate and current State Senator Darren Bailey, of Xenia, said in statement that he is “proudly pro-life” and that if elected governor, he will promote policies and groups that would empower women with “real options.” While he didn’t directly comment on the draft opinion, he said he would try to scale back recent changes made by Democrats.

“As governor, my focus will be restoring parental notification, ending taxpayer-funded abortion, and prioritizing and ensuring viable options that save lives and support women and families before, during and after pregnancy,” Bailey said.

Bailey has received endorsements by the Illinois Federation for Right to Life, Illinois Citizens for Life and Illinois Family Action.

GOP governor candidate Jesse Sullivan said in a news release under the headline “prayer works” that he is “overjoyed at what could be a generational change in the soul of our country.”

He noted that with the Supreme Court decision putting power back in the hands of the state, it “threatens to make Illinois’s current abortion laws even more heinous” and called for the end of late-term, partial-birth abortions and rollbacks of recent Illinois laws.

Gary Rabine, another GOP governor candidate, also said he welcomes the court’s reversal.

Richard Irvin, the Aurora mayor who has received the financial backing of megadonor Ken Griffin, was not among those issuing a statement, with his campaign declining to do so until a final decision is rendered by the court. His running mate, State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, is one of the staunchest anti-abortion lawmakers in the General Assembly.

Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, said in a news release that the organization will focus on “restoring protection to the most vulnerable” and ensuring that mothers “have the resources they need to choose life as well as parent confidently.”

Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, released a statement saying that while this decision comes as no surprise, the organization will continue to fight so everyone can access the fundamental reproductive health care they need.

In January, a regional logistics center opened in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights to make abortion care more accessible. The center is operated by Planned Parenthood and the Granite City-based Hope Clinic for Women.

Private funds are used to pay for travel and lodging arrangements and connect patients with existing resources. There is no income or distance requirement to access RLC services.

Planned Parenthood projected that an additional 14,000 women from Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee would likely travel to southern Illinois for abortion care if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“We will fight like hell, not just for the women of Illinois, but for every person in our state and every person across this nation who believes not in limiting civil rights and human rights, but expanding them,” Pritzker said.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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