ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature are grappling with the political aftereffects of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act — a measure the Democrat declared would make Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation” on matters of abortion.
Under the new abortion law in Illinois, a woman “has a fundamental right to an abortion,” and “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.”
Pro-life Republicans are mounting new efforts to repeal the bill, while Democrats who voted against it are bracing for potential backlash from the progressive wing in their party.
Senator Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill who says he is pro-choice, was the lone Democrat in the Illinois Senate to cast a vote against the abortion measure. Two other Democrats, Senators Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and Rachelle Crowe, voted present, while two more, Senators Martin Sandoval and Napoleon Harris, did not vote.
During an interview on Capitol Connection, Manar claimed the roll call caught him off guard.
“On multiple occasions, I was given assurances by the sponsors of the bill that the bill was not going to be called,” he said. “I had passed those assurances along to constituents,” Manar said. “I gave them my word that I would meet with them, better understand their position before formulating a final opinion. So that is the reason I voted no.”
Bill sponsors in the House and Senate said they never spoke to Manar directly.
“I don’t know that I personally had a conversation with Senator Manar about whether the bill was or wasn’t moving, but all you had to do was look,” Senator Melinda Bush, the bill sponsor, recounted.
“The bill was truly bottled up and sitting in a House subcommittee,” she said, adding that the abortion measure “broke loose when you saw six other states pass anti-abortion measures.”
“My record is clear on this,” Manar said. “I am pro-choice. I support women’s reproductive rights. I think what is happening in other states right now in the country should be a concern to everyone regardless of where they live. But at the end of the day,” he said, “when I give my word to people, I keep my word.”
Other Democratic legislators who asked to speak privately to avoid picking a public feud with Manar said they felt he betrayed his base and froze in a pivotal, historic moment on women’s reproductive rights.
Manar also noted that the final version of the bill was “very different” than the one that was introduced in the House. Supporters of the Reproductive Health Act acknowledged the bill was changed, but argued those changes should have made it easier for a pro-choice Democrat to support it, not harder.
Some of the changes included a definition of “fetal viability,” and created a viability standard for late-term abortions to allow doctors to make a judgment call in cases when there is “reasonable likelihood that fetus won’t live outside of the uterus outside of extraordinary life-saving measures,” Bush said.
Other late changes to the Reproductive Health Act cemented the Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, which allows doctors, insurance providers, or healthcare payers to object to either performing or funding an abortion for religious or conscientious reasons.
“Everyone makes decisions based on their district and what they believe is right,” Bush said. “Senator Manar is certainly a colleague I respect greatly, and he obviously made the decision based on the information he had available.”
Meanwhile, six House Republicans have since signed onto a ‘Fetal Heartbeat’ measure that aims to “repeal the Reproductive Health Act,” and would redefine a viable fetus as one that emits a “heartbeat” or a “repetitive rhythmic contraction,” the bill language says.
“It doesn’t feel like it will ever be over,” Representative Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat said on Thursday. “There will always be people who want to take away my bodily autonomy.”
House Republican Allen Skillicorn, who is mulling a 2020 Congressional campaign, filed the anti-abortion measure in Springfield to respond to what he called “truly appalling legislation.”
Skillicorn, a two-term representative from East Dundee, wrote in a statement, “It is now conceivable that a 14-year old girl lacking parental consent and advanced in her pregnancy could receive an abortion from a ‘health worker’ in a facility lacking minimum medical standards, as practitioner and facility licensing have been revoked. And if she would die due to negligence, no record of the death due to a botched abortion would be reported.”
“That is a complete disregard for reality,” Cassidy, who sponsored the bill in the House, said. “[Skillicorn] operates from a position that people are stupid and not smart enough to know the truth.”
In fact, the Reproductive Health Act did remove a requirement for parental consent, but did not remove parental notification.
The measure did also remove the state’s ability to grant special licenses to abortion clinics, but supporters say they did so as a precaution to eliminate so-called “trap laws” that were “put in place to close all abortion clinics,” Cassidy said. By removing the requirement for outpatient abortion clinics to seek a state license, the Reproductive Health Act prevents future legislatures or state agency directors from targeting a facility’s license as a means to revoke access to the procedure, similar to what is currently happening in the state of Missouri.
In this regard, Skillicorn’s hyperbolic hypothetical is a gross over-exaggeration, and not literally true. According to state law, doctors and facilities that perform abortions still have to be licensed medical practitioners and still must meet strict health, safety, and medical guidelines, just as any other surgeon, physician, or hospital have to comply with state and federal safety standards. The change in the law only removes an older provision that added an extra regulatory hurdle specifically for abortion procedures. Some smaller outpatient abortion facilities that provide abortion by injection or by pill may not have to be licensed as surgery centers, but the medical professionals performing the procedures still must be professionally trained and licensed.
“These are folks with significant medical training and experience,” Cassidy said.
A statement from Representative Chris Miller, an Oakland Republican who co-sponsored the ‘heartbeat bill,’ compared a woman who seeks an abortion to a man who was recently arrested for throwing a five-year-old child off the balcony at the Mall of America.
“Violence against children is unspeakably cruel, and yes, that includes abortion,” Miller wrote.
Democrats control the Governor’s Office and boast super majorities in the Illinois House and Senate, drastically reducing the likelihood that the Republican-drafted bill will succeed.