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Illinois House passes sweeping abortion rights bill after emotional floor debate

May 29, 2019

CHICAGO – After a lengthy and emotional debate, the Illinois House passed a controversial abortion rights bill Tuesday amid a growing sense of urgency to establish protections for access to the procedure as other states pass more restrictive laws.

The bill would repeal the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 and replace it with a new law that removes measures that call for spousal consent, waiting periods, criminal penalties for physicians who perform abortions and other restrictions on facilities where abortions are performed.

“Today, Illinois says we are better than this war on women,” Democrat Rep. Kelly Cassidy said just before the vote. “Illinois says we trust women. Please join me in saying that loud and clear: We trust women.”

After the House’s 64-50 vote in favor of the Reproductive Health Act, the bill now heads to the Senate.

A number of measures in the current Illinois abortion law are not enforced because of court injunctions. Proponents of the bill that passed Monday argue that several court cases that are in the pipeline to the Supreme Court could provide a path to overturning the landmark 46-year-old Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion nationwide. While abortion would remain legal under Illinois law, access to abortions could be impeded, said Cassidy, who sponsored the bill.

Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, “efforts to undermine reproductive rights have been constant,” Cassidy said.

Six states in recent weeks have passed restrictive abortion laws, which in some cases virtually ban the practice.

Republican Rep. Avery Bourne, who is visibly pregnant, characterized the bill as a broad expansion, while Democratic supporters of the bill repeatedly said the legislation codifies current practice in the state.

“This bill is not about keeping abortion legal in Illinois,” Bourne said during a lengthy back-and-forth with Cassidy. “This is about a massive expansion that will impact viable babies, and that is wrong.”

In a statement after the vote, the Catholic Conference of Illinois characterized the move as extreme and a “collective moral failure.”

“Illinois has previously distinguished itself by recognizing and upholding human dignity,” the statement said.

Democratic lawmakers argued that more restrictive abortion laws drive women “underground” to get abortions where they are less safe, disproportionately affecting lower-income and more vulnerable populations.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Maurice West II, a minister from Rockford who said he has received death threats over supporting the bill, said he is “gravely concerned” by restrictions passed in other states that “are putting chains on women.”

“At this time, I’ve decided to trust women to do what’s best for themselves,” West said. “Women, I trust you.”

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