The new law makes Illinois one of most progressive states in the nation when it comes to abortion. It repeals of the state’s 1975 abortion law, removes criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions and throws out restrictions on the procedure later in pregnancy.
It also marks the second time in recent years that Illinois lawmakers have expanded abortion rights. In 2017, former Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that will ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and allowed the use of taxpayer funds for abortion care.
But even with the Reproductive Health Act, SB 25, now law, it isn’t the last abortion-related fight on the horizon.
Shortly before the governor signed at the Chicago Cultural Center Wednesday morning, Personal PAC Board President Melissa Widen said the next step for reproductive rights activists is the repeal of Illinois’ 1995 Parental Notice of Abortion Act
“Now I look forward to working with the governor and our pro-choice leaders in the Senate and the House to pass the next important bill, and that’s to repeal the dangerous parental notice of abortion law,” Widen said.
Both the RHA and the bill to repeal the parental notice law were introduced around the same time in February, after having been included in recommendations from gubernatorial transition committee reports early in Pritzker’s term. But both bills faced roadblocks in March, when House Democratic leadership shelved the bills, sending them to a subcommittee to die a quiet death.
But in the wake of the passage and signing of abortion bans and so-called “heartbeat bills” that aim to curtail abortion access in states like Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee this spring, newly elected Democratic women, many of whom campaigned for the General Assembly on a platform that included abortion rights, pushed for the RHA.
Toward the end of session, House Democrats held a lengthy caucus meeting, after which RHA sponsor State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) confirmed to reporters that the brick was coming off her bill. The Sunday before the end of spring legislative session, bill language for the RHA was finally attached to a vehicle bill, and after a marathon hearing and two emotional debates in the last week of session, the bill passed both chambers.
Cassidy told The Daily Line that the plan had been to move the RHA first, and then to move the bill repealing the Parental Notice of Abortion Act. But she said the most simple explanation was that lawmakers “ran out of time.” Though the repeal of the parental notice law could have been rolled into a larger RHA bill, Cassidy said not doing so was a conscious choice.
“That was a strategic decision made with the coalition,” Cassidy said. “The RHA contains firewall provisions, if you will, because it was fundamentally about codifying status quo by and large, we felt it was cleaner to do this and then [the parental notice repeal bill].”
State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside), who sponsored the House version of the repeal bill, HB 2467, also told The Daily Line that focusing on the RHA this year was about the time crunch lawmakers faced.
“As you know we ran into problems; [the two bills] got buried in committee,” Welch said. “As we were running out of time, we wanted to focus on the RHA because of everything that was going around across the country.”
But Welch said he’ll continue to push for the repeal of the parental notice law, possibly as soon as the Fall Veto Session, which begins during the last week of October.
The Parental Notice of Abortion Act requires minors seeking abortions to notify and get permission from a parent or guardian. If a minor fears retribution from her parents, she can seek a bypass order from a judge. Though the law was passed in 1995, it was blocked by courts for 18 years after its passage, until a 2013 Illinois Supreme Court decision allowed its implementation.
ACLU Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka told The Daily Line that in the time since the law has actually been enforced in Illinois, the ACLU has handled more than 400 cases for young women looking to bypass the parental notification by getting a judge’s signoff.
Of those 400 cases, most have been handled in Cook County, as there’s no requirement under the Parental Notice of Abortion Act that a minor seek a judge’s permission in either the county she resides or even in the county she is seeking an abortion. Both the anonymity that the Cook County judicial system offers, especially for young women from rural or even suburban areas of the state, plus a relatively efficient system that’s been developed for bypass hearings, has made it ideal, Yohnka said.
Judges typically move on these cases quickly, and it’s rare for a judge to deny a minor her petition for bypass, Yohnka said. Even so, he said the law’s continued existence puts young women at risk.
“We still are committed to working with the sponsors to move the repeal of the parental notice law,” Yohnka said. “It’s still dangerous, it still harms families. We cannot force parental involvement and we cannot force parental communication.”
The RHA could face a lawsuit, most likely from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, where former State Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) serves as vice president and senior counsel. Breen, who was present Wednesday at the cultural center for a protest against the signing of the RHA, told The Daily Line that his review of the RHA is ongoing.
But he also said his “first priority is to defend parental notice against potential legal challenges.”