Illinois governor set to sign bill removing abortion restrictions


Marlee Chlystek / The DePaulia

Illinois’ move to expand abortion protections comes as a number of states including Missouri, Ohio and Alabama pass bills restricting abortion.

A controversial abortion bill which removes abortion restrictions in Illinois and criminal penalties for physicians who perform abortions passed in the state Senate on Saturday, with a 34-20 vote.

The bill, which previously passed in the House on Tuesday, comes as a number of states enact some of the toughest anti-abortion legislation seen in decades, including Ohio, Alabama and Missouri. The laws are widely believed to be written with the aim of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that protects women’s right to abortion in the U.S.  

The Reproductive Health Act, or HB2495, was introduced by Democratic Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy in February and repeals the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act as well as the Illinois Abortion Act of 1975. It lifts restrictions on abortions performed later in pregnancy and expands insurance coverage for abortions as well as contraceptives.

Proponents of the legislation argued that with the passage of abortion restrictions, pressure was put on the state to pass the Reproductive Health Act in Illinois before the spring legislative session on May 31. The session was extended over the weekend, where the bill easily passed in the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

It drew an emotional floor debate in the House last week as Republican Rep. Avery Bourne, who is visibly pregnant, called the bill a “massive expansion that will impact viable babies, and that is wrong.”

The strictest legislation passed in Alabama, which was signed into law three weeks ago by Gov. Kay Ivey and won’t go into effect until November. It bans abortion even in instances of rape or incest and would punish anyone performing an abortion with up to 99 years or life in prison.  

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth released a statement ahead of the bill’s passage stating it “will begin a long overdue effort to directly challenge Roe v. Wade.” The bill was introduced by State Rep. Terri Collins, who also said the bill was designed to “have Roe vs. Wade turned over.”

According to the Alabama Center for Health Statistics 6,768 Alabama residents reported induced pregnancy termination at a facility or hospital in 2017. Alabama’s abortion rates are some of the lowest in the nation.

In Illinois, 32,832 residents reported induced pregnancy termination in 2017, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

Protests have taken place in the states with the strictest legislation. And at DePaul, there was a protest at the Schmitt Academic Center on Wednesday.

The rally was organized by on-campus groups Women’s March DePaul, DePaul Socialists, DePaul Advocates for Sexual Assault Prevention and Students for Reproductive Justice from Loyola University.

Riley Reed, a freshman and the president of Women’s March DePaul, said the protest was meant to “bring light to reproductive justice in general” and also to raise awareness about what her group says is a lack of reproductive health resources at DePaul.

“We’re also kind of bringing light to DePaul and their lack of resources and lack of help to abortion,” she said. “They don’t even give out birth control.”

Reed said when she began Women’s March DePaul in 2018, she met with the coordinator for student groups and was told she wasn’t allowed to distribute birth control, condoms or any information about abortion.

DePaul’s official policy, enacted in 2005, says that the university “reserves the right to restrict the distribution of medical or health supplies/devices [or] items on university premises that it deems to be inappropriate from the perspective of the institution’s mission and values.”

The policy explicitly forbids the distribution “of birth control devices, of any kind … on university premises.”

Reed said the university has been supportive of other events organized by her group, including marches to the polls and support for local women’s shelters, but when it comes to reproductive issues the school is unmoved.

“When it comes to something that could happen because of sexual assault, like an unwanted pregnancy, no, they don’t allow that at all,” she said. “It’s very interesting. It’s very under — I don’t want to say under the rug, but it’s very discreet with birth control options.”

Freshman Grace Bracken of DePaul Advocates for Sexual Assault Prevention acknowledged that DePaul’s stance as a Catholic university may prevent them from directly providing contraceptive options. But, she said, “at the very least they need to do more to give out information about places in the city where you can get access to contraception and reproductive health care.”

On Friday, representatives of Planned Parenthood warned that the Missouri state health department was attempting to block services at the state’s last remaining health center that provides abortion. Hours before the center’s license was set to expire, a judge issued an order allowing it to stay open. And on Thursday,  Dr. Leana Wen, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood warned that “this is not a drill,” calling the efforts a public health crisis.

This is the world that the Trump administration and Republican public officials across the country have been pushing for — a world where abortion care is illegal and inaccessible in this country,” she said.