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Leaders on both sides of the abortion debate in Illinois tell how their roles will change if Roe v. Wade is overturned

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State Sen. Melinda Bush and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy lead a group of “handmaids” to a press conference where they argued for the Reproductive Health Act.

A leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion raises the possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned after nearly five decades. That has Illinois lawmakers, providers, legal groups and advocates strategizing about what they will do if abortion rights are no longer the law of the land.

With the projection of a court sealing Roe’s fate, 26 states are expected to ban abortion, and many of them surround Illinois.

lllinois has a trigger law that would ensure that the overturn of Roe would not force abortion restrictions here. Illinois law also requires that private and state insurance cover the termination of a pregnancy,

And last year, the state’s Parental Notification of Abortion law was repealed.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy is the Chicago Democrat who sponsored 2019’s expansive Reproductive Health Act, which made abortion a fundamental right in Illinois – at any point in pregnancy.

”One of the things I've heard so much – in addition to patients being afraid of what's going to happen is – abortion care workers, folks who work in the clinics — concerned about being in prison at some point,’’ she said. “So it's critically important that we are mindful of addressing those risks.”

This legislative session the Illinois House passed a measure that would ensure healthcare providers in Illinois who are also licensed in neighboring states, don't face legal repercussions

Some of the other possibilities for law changes in Illinois Cassidy listed include:

  • facilitating easier transfers of professional licenses from other states
  • providing support for the influx of inbound patients she said may be fleeing persecution in their own states.
  • state support for coalitions  that help with accessing abortions
  • making sure insurance issues are resolved quickly for inbound pregnant people

But attorney Peter Breen, vice president at the conservative Thomas More Society, said he thinks Democrats might have over-reached on the abortion issue. The former Republican lawmaker predicts the stark difference in abortion rights between Illinois and neighboring states upset some moderate voters.

Peter Breen
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Peter Breen is a vice president at the conservative legal group, the Thomas Society.

“My hope is that that large difference will weigh on the people of Illinois to say, ’hey, we don't want to become known as the abortion capital of the Midwest.’ We're already known for bankruptcy and corruption. Do we want to add abortion to that list?” he asked

Planned Parenthood of Illinois says yes.

Abortion rights advocates estimate that when Roe is overturned, Illinois could see a doubling or tripling of the current 10,000 out-of-state patients seeking abortion care here.

Planned Parenthood has spent the last several years preparing for the eventual overturn of Roe by constructing new clinics near Wisconsin and Indiana borders, and expanding other facilities.

But beyond physical space needs, Planned Parenthood of Illinois President and CEO Jennifer Welch says building out telehealth services has been a crucial step in ensuring women both in Illinois and beyond can access abortions here. Most pregnancies still in their first trimester don’t need a surgical abortion, and patients can instead receive a medication abortion after a video or phone consultation – and a mailing address in Illinois, even if it’s temporary.

“We anticipate that there could be between 20 and 30,000 additional patients coming to Illinois for abortions when all of the states around us eliminate access,” Welch said. ”And we expect for that to happen pretty quickly after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, and I will also say it's really happening now.” Texas in September enacted a law that bans abortions even before most people know they are pregnant.

Amy Gehrke is executive director of Illinois Right to Life, which expanded a project that assists pregnant people with a link to crisis pregnancy centers and financial and housing help. That’s to respond to the expected influx of abortion seekers from other states .

“Really, no matter what the final ruling is, thanks to the Reproductive Health Act, the abortion business will be business as usual, after the ruling, even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned.” she said. “So our strategy remains first to educate the people of Illinois about the absolute extremity of our abortion laws. They are completely out of step with mainstream opinion on on reasonable restrictions for abortion.”

On Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker went to Fairview Heights, Illinois – the site of a new healthcare clinic where the St. Louis region’s Planned Parenthood performs abortions. He argued for Congress to adopt the federal legislation that would codify Roe.

“There is no archaic rule, no parliamentary maneuver, no matter what, that is more critical than protecting the lives and bodily autonomy of more than 160 million people. It's long past time for this nation to codify Roe v Wade into law,” he said. “If it takes overhauling the filibuster, then overhaul the filibuster. If it requires countless hours of pleading and deliberation, then get to work. If it takes courage, find the courage.

That morning the U.S. Senate took a failed vote on The Women's Health Protection Act , which would make Roe the law of the land.

Ameri Klafeta, head of the reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois says, people who already face hurdles getting access to health care – low-income parents, people who already have children, people of color, and people who are LGBTQ – will be the ones most harmed if Roe is overturned..

Cassidy takes the issue personally, having had a medicinal abortion with her first pregnancy when it was discovered to be ectopic. She faced death or the potential of losing her ability to have children.

“Basically, my entire existence, my family's existence, is built upon that presumption of a constitutional right to privacy,” she said. “I am a lesbian parent, in a marriage with kids with shared custody, Each one of those pieces is a brick in a Jenga game that I feel like I'm watching … crash in real time.”

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