Illinois Lawmakers Advance What Could Be Nation's Most Liberal Abortion Legislation

The Reproductive Health Act came in direct response to a spate of anti-abortion legislation that has passed in states around the country.

Democrats in Illinois advanced new legislation Sunday that would further protect women’s rights to reproductive health, a measure advocates say grew from the spate of restrictive, anti-abortion laws that have been passed around the country in recent months.

An Illinois House committee approved the Reproductive Health Act in a party-line vote on Sunday evening after fierce debate, and the measure will now go before the full chamber. The bill, if passed, would mandate every woman be entitled to make decisions about her own health with limited government interference, repeal outdated, anti-abortion legislation, and require insurance companies to pay for abortions, among other initiatives.

“This Act sets forth the fundamental rights of individuals to make autonomous decisions about one’s own reproductive health, including the fundamental right to use or refuse reproductive health care,” the legislation, now referred to as Senate Bill 25, reads. The measure would also restrict “the ability of the State to deny, interfere with, or discriminate against these fundamental rights.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), said the measure came directly after several other states have passed restrictive abortion laws that effectively outlaw the practice. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the nation’s harshest such legislation into law earlier this month, which would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion in almost all cases. And Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed an anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” that prohibits the practice as soon as doctors can detect some movement in cardiac or heart cells.

People participate in a protest against Alabama's abortion ban at Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center in Evanston, Illinois on May 21, 2019.
People participate in a protest against Alabama's abortion ban at Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center in Evanston, Illinois on May 21, 2019.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

“Quite frankly, as we watch this parade of horribles in state after state after state, it’s nice to be able to do something about it,” Cassidy told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview. “It feels good to be able to have the opportunity to fight back and push back to defend these rights with as much force and vigor as our opponents in doing in other states and to make very clear who we are in Illinois.”

Republicans were reportedly frustrated after Cassidy took provisions from her initial legislation, which had been mired in politics, to amend another bill under a practice known as “gut and replace.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) has put her support behind the legislation, saying it was time to “double down on protections” for women in Illinois in a statement to ABC 7. The state’s Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has also alluded that he would support the legislation should it make it to his desk.

“The governor is a lifelong advocate for a women’s right to choose and with recent attacks on access to reproductive health care across the country, the governor applauds the House for taking an important step toward sending him a bill that will protect women’s rights in Illinois,” Pritzker’s spokesperson told the Sun-Times on Sunday evening.

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