Illinois set itself apart from the slew of states that recently passed anti-choice laws, instead opting to pass a progressive measure that would rescind state abortion restrictions.
The state House on Tuesday advanced the Reproductive Health Act by a vote of 64-50 after a weekend of fierce debate in the assembly. The legislation is one of the most progressive of its kind in the country, repealing the state’s anti-choice Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act and the Illinois Abortion Act of 1975, removing criminal penalties for providers who perform abortions, and requiring insurance companies to pay for abortions.
“[The bill] treats abortion care just like any other health care because, quite frankly, that’s what it is,” bill sponsor, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), said on the House floor prior to the final passage vote. “Reproductive health is about the full spectrum of care… This is not just about abortion.”
The measure now moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is expected to pass. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has also indicated that he will sign the measure into law should it reach his desk.
Under the bill, the state would enact the new Illinois Reproductive Health Act, which affirms a pregnant person’s right to choose, with limited government interference. Supporters have lauded the bill for codifying existing state practices into law and for expanding abortion access for low-income women and gender minorities, as well as those who live in rural areas.
The measure had stalled in the state assembly for months, until state Rep. Cassidy said the numerous strict abortion measures that advanced in states like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and Missouri “really upped the ante” for Illinois legislators. The extreme policies in those states drew thousands of protestors, who rallied nationwide in opposition last week. In 2019 alone, nearly 30 abortion bans were introduced, passed, or signed in states across the country, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. The strictest came from Alabama earlier this month, when Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed into law a near-total abortion ban that would make it a felony to terminate a pregnancy at any point, unless the health of the pregnant person is at risk, and punish providers with up to 99 years in prison.
“Efforts to undermine reproductive rights have been constant,” Cassidy said. “These attacks have increased dramatically; they are focused and strategic and they are aimed at undermining our right at bodily autonomy … I believe Illinois is better than that and the Reproductive Health Act can help us to show that.”
Prior to the bill’s passage, state Rep. Avery Bourne (R) criticized as “overly broad” the provisions addressing familial and maternal health and the viability of the fetus. The bill’s language, Cassidy replied, is based on medically-accepted standards.
“How broad do we intend for those to be?” Bourne asked.
“I am not a doctor,” Cassidy said. “A doctor will decide based on the accepted standards of clinical care … These are decisions doctors make all the time for all kinds of health care … We cannot and should not be arguing hypotheticals. Lawmakers are not doctors.”
Toward the end of the debate, a visibly upset Bourne said, “This bill is not about keeping abortion legal in Illinois, this is about a massive expansion that will impact viable babies, and that is wrong.”
State Rep. Anna Moeller (D) said Bourne’s line of questioning was rooted in “scare tactics,” adding that “the opposition doesn’t trust women and doesn’t trust doctors to make ethical and compassionate decisions when it comes to women’s health care … and I find that offensive and disturbing.”
If the bill is signed into law, Illinois would join states like Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, and Vermont, which have also passed similar bills this year in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority overturning the landmark 1973 abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade.