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Senate approves measure to crack down on ‘crisis pregnancy centers’

By ANDREW ADAMS
& NIKA SCHOONOVER
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – A rush of legislation passed before a Friday deadline in the Senate included proposals aimed at protecting those seeking reproductive health care in Illinois.

The first of these proposals, Senate Bill 1909, would give the state’s attorney general explicit authority to crack down on “limited services pregnancy centers,” which are also known as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs.

The bill, which was pushed by the attorney general’s office, bars CPCs from engaging in “unfair methods of competition” or “deceptive acts or practices.”

The proposal passed on a partisan 36-19 vote after heated debate.

Crisis pregnancy centers are a type of facility that offer services to expectant parents which may include counseling, aid such as free diapers or limited medical services such as ultrasounds. They are often non-profits associated with national or local groups that oppose abortion.

CPCs are the subject of ongoing national debate because they sometimes divert women seeking abortions from receiving them.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that state funds in general should not be used to support these organizations. It also recommended states should strengthen consumer protection laws against false or misleading advertising to hold the industry’s more nefarious actors accountable.

“Patients report being misled into going to crisis pregnancy centers – sometimes even receiving exams and ultrasounds – thinking they were visiting another clinic that offers the full range of reproductive care. This is an extreme violation of trust and patient privacy that should not occur in our state,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a news release earlier this week.

The Crisis Pregnancy Center Map, a project of professors Andrea Swartzendruber and Danielle Lambert of the University of Georgia’s Department of Public Health, identifies 97 CPCs in Illinois. The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights focused research group, found that in 2017 there were 40 abortion providers in Illinois.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, said it clarifies existing powers of the office of the attorney general, which already has authority to prosecute consumer fraud. Opponents criticized the bill on that front, saying it gave the attorney general too much authority.

“We’re going to have the same entity making the rules, deciding what the fines are, and then collecting those into their own coffers,” said Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro. “I don’t know any other circumstances that we do that in.”

Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, suggested the measure could be used to prevent volunteers at CPCs from sharing their religious beliefs on abortion.

“And this overreach just goes to the point that if you don’t believe the way the majority party believes in this state you’re wrong and we’re going to go after you,” she said.

Villanueva said the bill is not intended to punish providers of obstetrical or gynecological care “simply because they do not perform abortions.”

“Health care providers will not be subject to enforcement under this bill, as long as they do not employ fraud, deception and misleading practices to interfere with or prevent another from accessing comprehensive reproductive health care,” she said.

The bill has drawn criticism from outside the legislature as well.

At an anti-abortion rally in front of the Capitol last week, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese encouraged protestors to continue to fight against abortion measures in the state.

“Every year, over 10,000 out-of-state residents now come to Illinois for abortion, often at taxpayer expense. And that number has been increasing dramatically since June of 2022, when Dobbs was decided,” said Paprocki said. “In states such as ours, we cannot relax our pro-life efforts now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.”

Others have already promised to fight the bill in court.

“This bill is flagrantly unconstitutional, and if it becomes law, we will immediately file suit to protect pro-life organizations’ right to free speech,” Peter Breen, the head of litigation for the Thomas More Society, said in a statement Friday morning.

Illinois has passed several laws protecting abortions in recent years, including making it a right under state statute. They’ve all faced similar Republican opposition as the measures that passed with only Democratic support this week.

Another of those measures was Senate Bill 1344, which would ensure that insurance providers cover medication abortion, hormonal therapy and HIV medication. It passed the chamber Friday on partisan lines.

The bill would also exempt reports from the Abortion Care Clinical Training program from being subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The program, established last year, gives grants to fund abortion training programs at community-based provider sites.

Villanueva sponsored that bill as well, noting the exemption clarifies existing law and keeps program participants safe.

“We already know that reproductive rights providers have been under attack, have been harassed have been abused, and in some cases murdered,” Villanueva said. “So when we strive to clarify laws in the state of Illinois in order to make sure that people are not put under duress in a situation or harassed…We’re trying to protect people which was the original intent of the original bill.”

Senate Minority Leader John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said the governor’s office already has administrative rulemaking authority to “exempt any sort of information that could pose … a threat of any sort to someone.”

“The reality is, we already have the authority on that point,” Curran said. “It’s up to the governor to act. The governor, for three months, has not acted on this point.”

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 1907, which would require state colleges and universities to provide “wellness kiosks.” These would be vending machines to provide wellness products with the explicit requirement that emergency contraception be among the items offered. This is also sometimes known as the morning after pill or Plan B.

The bill, also sponsored by Villanueva, passed 38-19 on Thursday. Republicans criticized it, with Tracy calling it “frivolous.”

All three measures head to the House for further consideration.

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

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