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‘Fundamental Right’ to Abortion Declared by Illinois Lawmakers

June 1, 2019, 4:55 AM

The Illinois Senate late May 31 passed a bill opponents called one of the most liberal pieces of abortion legislation in the nation and warned it will turn the Land of Lincoln into a magnet for women seeking abortions.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has vowed to sign the measure.

The Senate voted 34-20 to approve SB 25, the Reproductive Health Act, on its last day of the 2019 spring session. The measure repeals various abortion-related statutes, such as the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, and replaces them with language declaring that women in Illinois have a “fundamental right” to continue pregnancy or to have an abortion.

The Illinois vote runs counter to most of the recent actions taken by other states during busy spring legislative sessions. Alabama and Missouri, for instance, passed legislation in May placing further restrictions on the ability to obtain abortions. But earlier on May 31, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed SB 179, which removes certain informed-consent requirements necessary before an abortion could be performed.

The governor of Illinois said that he would sign the legislation after the House approved the bill May 28 by a 64-50 vote.

“With reproductive healthcare under attack across the country, we must do everything in our power to protect women’s rights in Illinois,” Pritzker said in a statement at the time.

Abortion opponents condemned the measure as extreme.

“This bill remains the most radically pro-abortion measure of its kind and would make Illinois an abortion destination for the country,” said Peter Breen, a former Illinois state legislator who currently serves as senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, a group that opposes abortion.

A legal challenge is likely. Ed Yohnka, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois spokesman, said his organization is ready to fight in court for the legislation.

“We think this bill is so important in the context of women in Illinois and the protection of their health care that if it was challenged we certainly would support the legislature’s position and do everything we could to protect it and keep it on the books,” he said.

Fighting the Wave

The bill says that individuals who become pregnant have a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or obtain an abortion and to make autonomous decisions about how to exercise that right.

The legislation goes beyond asserting women can elect to obtain an abortion. It says, for instance, that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of Illinois. The bill also explicitly gives parties aggrieved by a violation of the law the right to bring a civil lawsuit.

It is important for Illinois to resist the example of other states adopting more strict abortion laws, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), a sponsor of the legislation, said.

“Fundamentally I believe it’s necessary for states like Illinois and others to affirm this right, to stand up and push back against this wave,” she said.

Policies restricting abortion rights led to Democrats gaining formerly Republican seats in 2018 state elections, making possible the approval of legislation such as SB 25, Cassidy said.

“We picked up a significant number of seats in the last election, largely as a result of these policies we’re seeing as part of this national trend. It got people activated,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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