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Pritzker, Illinois Dems vow to protect abortion rights as Republicans promise to curtail

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CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic state lawmakers reiterated Tuesday that abortion will remain legal in Illinois even if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade.

They also vowed to strengthen the “force field” built up over the years that has made the state easily the most abortion-friendly in the Midwest.

At the same time, Republican candidates for governor praised the draft decision striking down Roe — which was reported by Politico Monday night in an unprecedented leak — while promising to curtail abortion rights if elected.

“Illinois is a beacon of hope in an increasingly dark world,” said Pritzker, flanked by dozens of mostly female Democratic lawmakers in Chicago early Tuesday, “because 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 in expanding them.”

He said the expected decision from the court spells out what’s at stake, and it does not stop at abortion access.

“We were warned about today,” Pritzker said. “We were warned over and over and over again. And yet some folks didn’t want to believe it. So let me put you on alert again: If you think the Republican politicians who have engineered the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade are going to stop here, let me tell you otherwise. This is just the beginning.”

“Next, they’re coming for marriage equality,” Pritzker continued. “Then they will take away civil rights for marginalized and minority communities. If this ruling stands, if they can reverse 50 years of settled law, then every Supreme Court decision that has made this country freer and fairer, can be reversed by this court.”

The comments are a reflection of the deep divide between the two political parties on the issue of abortion, with the vast majority of Democrats supporting access and the vast majority of Republicans favoring limiting the procedure or banning it outright.

The issue has the potential to upend the Illinois governor’s race as well as state legislative races, where the main issues to this point have been inflation and crime.

Illinois Republicans were less quick to comment on the news. Many praised the likely outcome but did not commit to supporting a full ban of the procedure.

Jesse Sullivan mug

Sullivan

In a statement, venture capitalist and GOP governor candidate Jesse Sullivan called for the end of late-term, partial-birth abortions, halting taxpayer funding of the procedure and bringing back parental notification for minors.

But he said that the draft ruling, which would put the decision into the hands of the states, “threatens to make Illinois’s current abortion laws even more heinous, and abortion tourism even more prevalent.”

Sullivan said “the difference is life and death” now between electing a Republican or a Democrat.

“This race for governor is even more clear today — it’s between politicians we can’t trust and the mistakes of the past on one side, and a campaign that proudly puts faith first and a chance to make a real change on the other,” Sullivan said.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, in a statement, reiterated that he opposes abortion.

Darren Bailey - mug

Bailey 

“We live in a state where Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers, but our laws are too extreme,” Bailey said. “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.”

Businessman Gary Rabine said he welcomed the court’s reversal of longstanding precedent.

“We must as a state and a country do all we can to protect the rights of the unborn,” he said.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, considered a frontrunner, will not comment until the Supreme Court puts out a final ruling, his campaign said.

Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, said the focus of her organization “will remain on restoring protection to the most vulnerable in our state as well as ensuring their mothers have the resources they need to choose life as well as parent confidently.”

If the constitutional right to an abortion is struck down, it would likely revert the issue back to the states, thus raising the stakes in the 2022 election.

Pritzker did not mince words about the choice voters have in November.

“If the wrong people are elected to office, if people who are against women’s rights get elected to office, if the Legislature turns Republican or the governorship turns Republican, we will end up being an anti-choice state,” Pritzker said.

Legal and accessible in Illinois

Illinois has become an island of sorts for abortion rights in the Midwest, enacting among the most liberal reproductive health laws in the country in recent years.

In 2017, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 40, which permitted state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions and removed “trigger law” language that could have made the procedure illegal in the event Roe v. Wade was overturned.

In 2019, Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act. The law enshrined reproductive health care — including abortion access — as a “fundamental right” in Illinois.

And late last year, Pritzker signed legislation repealing a 1995 law that requires an abortion provider to give an adult family member at least 48 hours notice before the procedure is performed on a girl under the age of 18.

All of this means that if the Supreme Court follows through with striking down the constitutional right to an abortion, the procedure still will be legal and accessible in Illinois.

In fact, Illinois abortion providers have been expecting this and planning for it.

Jennifer Welch, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the organization is “furious” but ready to handle a post-Roe future.

“We have been preparing for this decision for years, and we will continue to ensure that every patient, no matter where they live, has access to the health care they need and deserve,” Welch said.

In January, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri opened a “regional logistics center” intended to help out-of-state women seeking abortion services at the organization’s Metro East facility.

The Fairview Heights site is operated by Planned Parenthood and Granite City-based Hope Clinic for Women. It arranges for travel and lodging, and connects patients with resources, such as financial assistance.

Planned Parenthood has 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.

Every state surrounding Illinois either has a “trigger” law that would ban abortion if Roe is overturned or severely restricts the procedure.

However, Democratic lawmakers said they would not rest.

Kelly Cassidy

Cassidy

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, lead sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act, said Republicans “are already making clear they are coming for a national ban.”

“And no law we pass here in Illinois will help us then,” Cassidy said. “So we cannot rest on these rights.”

In the meantime, Cassidy said she will be thinking “about what else our force field needs.”

Brenden Moore

brenden.moore@lee.net

@brendenmoore13 on Twitter

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