While women in states like Texas and even nearby Indiana face sweeping restrictions to their access to health care, Illinois is seen as a relative safe haven. In fact, women from across the Midwest come to our state to seek the medical care they need without intrusive government interference.
Unfortunately, that safety net is now in jeopardy. In fact, if the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, abortion would become immediately illegal in Illinois — without the legislature even acting. Thanks to an anti-choice law pressed by the far right in the early 1970’s, the Illinois criminal code contains a trigger law that would make most forms of birth control, as well as pregnancy termination, illegal. So what happens in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Welcome back to 1973.
This would be disastrous for women. Before Roe v. Wade, 1.2 million U.S. women had an illegal and often unsafe abortion every year. This cost 5,000 women their lives annually. Without safe access to proper reproductive health care, women took dangerous risks in order to regain control of their lives. In fact, Cook Country Hospital had an entire 17-bed ward called the “Septic Abortion Ward” where women who were suffering and dying from illegal abortions were treated. Many did not survive. Now we are at risk of returning to that dark time.
The Illinois General Assembly is now considering House Bill 40. This bill would overturn the archaic “trigger” law hidden away in the Illinois criminal code and protect reproductive decision-making regardless of what happens at the federal level. Given President Trump’s track record and views on women’s autonomy, it would be simply irresponsible to assume that the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to uphold Roe v. Wade and respond women’s rights to self-determination. We must take matters into our own hands in Illinois, which is why I am so enthusiastically supporting House Bill 40.
This bill also addresses two other key problems with our current law. Today, a male state employee can use his insurance to acquire Viagra, but a woman who works for the state cannot use her insurance to pay for an abortion. Further, the state of Illinois currently forces low-income women to pay out of pocket for an abortion. House Bill 40 does not view reproductive rights in an abstract vacuum, but instead recognizes that reproductive justice and economic justice are intertwined and therefore corrects these inequities.
For years, Illinois has had a reputation as a progressive state where women’s rights and freedoms are protected. We aspire to be a place where women and men have equal autonomy over their own family and professional lives. With the election of President Trump, we must decide whether to give up on these principles or whether instead to press forward as a safe haven in the sea of unprecedented adversity. I choose progress — it’s time to pass House Bill 40.