• Ben Szalinski
    JUN 24, 2022


    Pritzker teases special session on abortion rights as Illinois politicians react to Roe ruling

    Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at a news conference in Chicago Friday. [Blue Room Stream] 

    Gov. JB Pritzker will call the General Assembly into a special session in the “coming weeks” to tackle reproductive legislation and shore up abortion protections in Illinois after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday, he announced.  

    Democratic lawmakers and Pritzker said Friday’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was not surprising to them, but last month’s leak of the draft opinion didn’t soften the blow. While they stressed the ruling will not change Illinois’ abortion laws, they condemned what they believe is an attack on women’s rights.  

    Pritzker called the ruling an "abhorrent decision" that "contradicts the nation's history of expanding rights." He warned Republican lawmakers will next try to "take away" other pregnancy treatments and "women's power to become mothers at the time of their choosing."  

    “Illinois will be a safe haven for the exercise of your reproductive rights,” Pritzker said at a news conference Friday morning. “In Illinois, Roe v. Wade is still the law, and it will remain the law as long as we have a pro-choice legislature and a pro-choice governor.”   

    Since Pritzker took office in early 2019, Illinois lawmakers have repeatedly propped up abortion protections in Illinois. First, the governor signed the 2019 Reproductive Health Act knocking down multiple hurdles to abortion in Illinois, including by ending the state’s ban on so-called “partial birth” abortions, lifting restrictions on where abortions can be performed and eliminating penalties for people who perform abortions. The law also refutes an argument made by pro-life activists and says that a “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of this state.”    

    Illinois legislators also repealed a so-called “trigger law” that would have instantly set new restrictions on abortion if Roe were to be overturned.   

    Last year, Pritzker signed another controversial bill that repealed the 1995 Parental Notification of Abortion Act. Under Illinois’ new law, minors no longer have to tell their parents if they are having an abortion. 

    It’s not yet clear exactly when the General Assembly will meet or what specific bills it will consider, but legislators will likely meet after the Fourth of July. The House passed HB1464 earlier this year, which prohibits the state from revoking licenses from health care workers for providing abortion services. The bill is awaiting consideration in the Senate.    

    Pritzker said one example of legislation Democrats will consider could be expanding the number of health care professionals to deal with a surge of people from outside Illinois who seek abortions.  

    Planned Parenthood CEO Jennifer Welch said at a separate news conference Friday that she expects 20,000 to 30,000 more people to see abortions in Illinois every year as other states ban the medical procedure. Neighboring Missouri was among the first states to outlaw abortion on Friday.    

    Welch called on state lawmakers to “take the necessary next steps for true equitable access to abortion care,” including by increasing funding and lowering barriers for abortion providers “who will be caring for this dramatic increase in patients in Illinois in our new post-Roe reality.” 

    Planned Parenthood released a statement Friday proposing legislation to allow nurses to perform abortions, quickening the process for out-of-state health care workers to get licensed in Illinois, more funding to open new locations that provide abortion services, and funding to support people traveling from outside Illinois.  

    Pritzker said Illinois does not provide direct financial support to women who come to Illinois to have an abortion, but they would benefit from the state finding a way to increase capacity for services.  

    Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) said Illinois women should not be deterred by Friday’s decision.  

    “If you have an appointment, keep it,” Cassidy said. “If you are thinking of making an appointment, make it. We are protecting choice in Illinois.”  

    Anti-abortion advocates say that with Illinois’ current legal protection for abortion, they will continue to push for anti-abortion laws in the state.  

    Make no mistake, because this ruling regrettably will have little impact on abortion in Illinois, as there are virtually no restrictions here, we will continue to advocate strongly for legal protections for unborn children,” Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich said in a statement.  

    Pritzker’s decision to call a special session did not sit well with Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods), who argued the legislature’s focus should be on dealing with inflation and gas prices.  

    “Instead of dealing with these vital issues, Pritzker is embracing an extreme agenda that will make Illinois an outlier even amongst the most liberal states,” McConchie said in a statement. 

    Some conservative political figures took time to celebrate the high court’s decision.  

    “What a beautiful day,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan in a campaign video on social media. “After decades of fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade and so many prayers around the nation, it’s finally here. Now this battle for life and the frontlines moves right here to Illinois.”   

    Sullivan’s opponent, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, has declined to comment on the leaked draft opinion and has largely avoided specific answers to questions about his thoughts on abortion throughout the campaign. Irvin released a statement Friday criticizing the bill that repealed the Parental Notification of Abortion Act.  

    “As a pro-life Republican, I will continue to fight for every parent's right to know if a minor child is having an abortion - a right JB Pritzker has outrageously taken away,” Irvin said. “With Democratic majorities in the Illinois General Assembly, this Supreme Court ruling will have no effect on the law in our state.” 

    Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) took a shot directly at Pritzker for Illinois’ laws limiting the impacts of Friday’s ruling in Illinois.  

    “Unfortunately, billionaire JB Pritzker is an abortion extremist out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Illinoisans,” Bailey said in a Facebook post. “He continues to push a radical agenda from taxpayer-funded abortion, late-term elective abortions and removing parental notification.” 

    While access to abortion is set to quickly change in many states throughout the country, Illinois’ Republican lawmakers are acknowledging the court’s ruling changes little in Illinois despite for their support for the pro-life movement.  

    “Illinois Democrats have already passed the most progressive abortion laws in the country, including allowing a minor child to get an abortion without notifying their parents,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said in a statement. “This ruling will do nothing to protect those young girls in Illinois.” 

    Pritzker had a message to Republicans who are celebrating Friday’s ruling. 

    “Hop off your high horse and know that what you’re calling a celebration of life today will actually lead to death,” Pritzker said. 

    Related: With Supreme Court decision looming, Bailey and Pritzker line up abortion-related endorsements    

    Abortion now becomes a central issue in this year’s election and Illinois Democrats said Friday’s rule underscores the importance of election more Democrats to office in November to protect Illinois’ status as an “island” for abortion.  

    “For this primary on Tuesday and November’s general election, game on,” said Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “This is on the ballot.”  

    Cassidy noted Friday's ruling raises the stakes in Illinois’ two Supreme Court elections this fall. Voters living in the state’s second and third Supreme Court districts will both select new justices in November. If both Republicans win, the court’s balance would shift to a 4-3 Republican majority and potentially allow the court to strike down Illinois’ abortion laws if a case raised a question about their legality.  

    “We built the firewall to protect, and it holds,” Cassidy said. “But it’s only as strong as the next election. We have two Supreme Court races on the ballot in November. The balance of the court hangs on those two races, and therefore the Reproductive Health Act, our marriage equality laws, our civil rights laws all hang by that same balance.

    Erin Hegarty contributed to this article. 

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