In Anger And Sorrow, House OKs Abortion Bill

May 28, 2019

After a long and unusually emotional debate in the Illinois House Tuesday, lawmakers approved legislation aimed at keeping abortion legal in Illinois, regardless of what happens in other states or Washington, D.C.

The legislation would repeal laws that, while not currently enforced, could go back into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

With lawmakers in red states passing laws limiting or outlawing abortion — teeing up challenges to Roe — Illinois Democrats wanted to demonstrate their state is going the other way.

They called their legislation the “Reproductive Health Act.” It would repeal laws requiring spousal consent for abortions and criminally charging doctors if they perform the procedure.

The legislation also requires insurance companies to cover abortions as part of reproductive health care.

Sponsoring state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago, says it does little more than codify what’s already happening in Illinois.

“It is crucial that our law states that the health of pregnant patients must be paramount,” Cassidy said. “The Reproductive Health Act simply incorporates this long-recognized principle so that women are supported in their ability to make the best decisions for themselves, their health and well-being throughout pregnancy.”

The law allows abortions at all stages of a pregnancy — including after the fetus is viable — if it’s critical to health and life of the patient.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, from Raymond, handled most of the debate for Republicans.
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Republican lawmakers unanimously voted against the measure. They also pursued an unusual tactic in debate, with most yielding their time to one colleague: Avery Bourne, who represents the town of Raymond and is visibly pregnant.

Bourne questioned the standards for deciding “health of the mother” — including but not limited to physical, emotional, psychological and familial factors.

“These definitions seem overly broad and I am certain that most doctors, if their incentive is to perform an abortion, would find some kind of loophole here to figure that out,” she said.

Bourne told lawmakers if they don’t keep track of the reason why abortions are performed, there could be a jump in the procedure after the first trimester.

“For a woman at my stage in pregnancy, where the baby responds to his dad’s voice as he reads him books at night, the woman could go to the facility — the baby is perfectly healthy, but if that woman says ‘based on my familial health, this is medically necessary,’ that is allowed,” Bourne said.

Several Democrats scoffed at that idea.

“I am disgusted by the propaganda that is out there suggesting that any woman late in her pregnancy — or even after giving birth, as I’ve heard from some — and then decide, ‘Eh, I just don’t want this child,’ and simply end it’s life,” said Rep. Joyce Mason, from Gurnee. “It’s disgusting and it’s insulting to women and it’s insulting to the doctors who taken that hippocratic oath.”

Other Democrats conjured scenes from before abortion was legal.

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, from Chicago, described one doctor’s experience working in the septic unit of Cook County Hospital in 1948, when desperate women attempted to perform their own abortions with whatever tool was at hand.

“Paint brushes. Pencils. Knitting needles,” Feigenholtz said. “He saw perforated vaginas, untreatable infections and women who hemorrhaged to death.”

Rep. Maurice West, a Democrat from Rockford, was among the men who spoke in favor of the legislation.
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Men on the Democratic side of the aisle echoed one another in saying, “We trust women.”

“We fought a civil war because we wanted to keep black bodies chained and enslaved,” said Rep. Maurice West, from Rockford. “And now you’re asking me, a black man, to put policy chains on a woman’s body — on reproductive health.”

After more than two hours of debate, the legislation passed the House on vote of 64 to 50. The Republicans were joined by six Democrats voting against the legislation; four other Dems voted “present.”

Reaction from outside the Capitol was swift and — in some cases — severe. Liberal groups praised the outcome. But the outspoken Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Thomas Paprocki, called the House vote “gravely immoral” and the legislation “evil.”

The Reproductive Health Act (Senate Bill 25) still has to get through a vote in the Senate before going to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said in a statement that he looks forward to signing it into law.