• Ben Szalinski
    JUN 23, 2023


    Illinois legislature spends year since Dobbs ruling preserving and boosting access to abortion

    Gov. JB Pritzker makes a campaign stop at Planned Parenthood’s Chicago office in August 2022. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    When the U.S. Supreme Court dropped the expected end of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022 in the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, it was a call to action for Illinois Democrats who spent the next year crafting and passing bills to protect and expand access to abortion in Illinois.  

    After taking the second half of 2022 to craft legislation and decide what should be addressed, Illinois lawmakers have passed about a dozen bills on abortion and more on privacy, same sex marriage, and gender-affirming care to respond to the high court ruling that forever changed American politics.   

    “We intentionally didn’t do one bill because Dobbs didn’t cause a singular problem and continues to cause more problems,” Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) told The Daily Line. 

    Cassidy was tapped last summer by House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) to lead a working group for House Democrats to decide how lawmakers in the solid blue state should respond to the court’s ruling. Just hours after the Dobbs ruling Gov. JB Pritzker called for lawmakers to hold a special session in July 2022 to pass new abortion legislation. A week later, Pritzker and legislative leaders announced they would take more time to weigh their options.  

    “We knew we had the time to use in that we were aiming for something in lame duck session so we used that time accordingly and didn’t rush,” Cassidy said.  

    When lawmakers met in January, they passed HB4664 as the state’s first response to the Dobbs decision. The bill protects licenses for health care workers who perform abortion in other states where the practice is illegal, blocks wrongful death lawsuits for performing abortions and ensures insurance companies cover medication for abortion even without proof of pregnancy. It also shores up access to gender affirming medication, protects people having abortions in Illinois from punishment in states where abortion is illegal and requires the Department of Public Health to provide grants to communities in areas of the state where reproductive care is scarcer.  

    The bill sought to address a key problem abortion providers identified early after the Dobbs decision. As states around Illinois and throughout the south banned or severely limited abortion, Illinois became an “island” state for reproductive healthcare and saw an influx of patients seeking abortion. 

    In a news release earlier this month, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced their clinics have seen a 54 percent increase in abortion services with 13 percent of patients seeking abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy — up from 8 percent. A quarter of all patients came from 34 states outside Illinois compared to just 7 percent before the Dobbs decision.  

    “The Supreme Court stripped away a fundamental right, causing devastating consequences for our patients, especially those forced to travel for care,” Planned Parenthood of Illinois CEO Jennifer Welch said in the release. “People should have the freedom to control their own body without political or corporate interference.”  

    Over the course of the spring session, lawmakers also advanced 11 other abortion bills.  

    Related: Senate Democrats approve controversial bill targeting ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ 

    The most controversial bill (SB1909) of the spring session gives the attorney general’s office power to take action against crisis pregnancy centers that engage in “deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, or misrepresentation, or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact” on how to have abortions, receive contraception, or advertise or practice services. 

    Supporters of the bill said it is necessary because anti-abortion pregnancy centers have posed as reliable sources of healthcare and even acted like abortion clinics only for patients to find out later the facility does not offer abortions. However, the bill generated severe backlash as religious organizations threatened lawsuits for violating the First Amendment and were further angered when the attorney general’s office declined to say what type of speech would violate the proposed law.  

    The bill passed the General Assembly on party-line votes and is awaiting the signature of Pritzker signature, who has previously indicated he would sign it.  

    Related: Bill awaiting Pritzker’s signature prevents out-of-state law enforcement from using license plate reader data to track people traveling for abortions  

    Another key bill directly addresses anti-abortion laws in other states. A bill (HB3326) on Pritzker’s desk that was pushed by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias would prohibit out-of-state law enforcement from using data collected by automated license plate readers to track women traveling to Illinois for abortion.  

    The reason for the law is both proactive and reactive, Giannoulias said at a news conference last week. He said some states have asked Illinois law enforcement agencies for plate reader information related to abortion. Under the bill, out-of-state law enforcement agencies will need to enter into an agreement with Illinois-based law enforcement not to use data from plate readers to track women seeking abortions even if it violates their own state laws. 

    Related: House Democrats push through latest abortion package  

    Lawmakers also passed bills expanding insurance coverage for reproductive healthcare. SB1344 would require insurance companies to cover hormone drugs and exempts reports to the Department of Public Health from facilities participating in the Abortion Care Clinical Training Program from the Freedom of Information Act.      

    According to state law, organizations participating in the training program must submit “the number of participants enrolled, the demographics of Program participants, the number of participants who successfully complete the Program, the outcome of successful Program participants, and the level of involvement of the participants in providing abortion and other forms of reproductive health care in Illinois.” That will no longer be the case if the governor signs SB1344.  

    Lawmakers also voted to pass SB1907, which requires colleges to make Plan B available in healthcare vending machines.  

    Democrats have also passed bills on gender-affirming care and same sex marriage as part of Dobbs’ potentially expansive interpretation that could see the case applied to other privacy-related issues.  

    “I think there’s a pretty clear understanding that these attacks are happening in tandem and you can’t only protect half of the targets,” Cassidy said.  

    Democrats have advanced all the bills without Republican support, as expected. Cassidy praised the working group she leads in the House and said, “everyone there is fully invested.” She said the group has brought in different types of perspectives from hospital administrators to physicians to help the group learn about the topic. 

    “It has become a thing that folks are used to hearing from now, which I’m pleased about,” Cassidy said. “I sometimes worry that maybe we were over communicating… but what it resulted in what a really peaceful buy-in from our causes.”  

    Last week Cassidy and Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago) were tapped by the Biden Administration to present at a White House forum of lawmakers and stakeholders from around the country on how Illinois has responded to the Dobbs decision. She said the forum was “an opportunity to hear [and] get some ideas of what other folks are doing and really to reiterate the resource [the Biden] administration wants to be for us.” 

    Even after a jam-packed spring, there is still more work to do on abortion, Cassidy said. Planned Parenthood of Illinois CEO Jennifer Welch said at a news conference earlier this month that part of the legislative efforts going forward would involve responding to anti-abortion laws other states enact.  

    “We have to respond to the next wave of damage the extremists do … We keep doing everything we can in Illinois until opposition invents a new tactic to harass or terrify our patients,” Welch said.   

    Illinois lawmakers may next take a look at data privacy laws to protect healthcare information, Cassidy said. Another option that could be discussed in the spring 2024 session is an amendment to Illinois’ constitution making abortion a right. She said it didn’t make sense to focus on an amendment in the 2023 session because the amendment would appear on the 2024 ballot, so lawmakers still have time to figure out its language and the campaign’s messaging to sell it to voters.  

    “There are a lot of practical things we had to get done and some we still have to get done… We’re going to use the summer to talk about it but also use the summer to finish some unfinished business,” Cassidy said.  

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