Bush on abortion protections: 'I'm really fighting for women that are coming after me'
SPRINGFIELD -- It took fewer than 30 minutes of testimony and debate for a panel of state senators to advance a measure overhauling Illinois' abortion statute to the full chamber Thursday morning. The bill received support from only Democrats.
The Reproductive Health Act repeals the state's law regulating abortion procedures and replaces it with a reproductive health measure that backers and detractors agree would be the most liberal in the nation.
Sen. Melinda Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake and the bill's sponsor, said she felt "relieved" her colleagues voted to progress the legislation.
"We absolutely have to protect women's reproductive health in the state of Illinois as we see these states that one after another are passing some of the most restrictive laws we've ever seen," she said after the committee hearing. "I'm ready to continue the fight on behalf of women and families."
At a news event Wednesday, Bush said she was "100 percent" sure the Reproductive Health Act would successfully reach Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's desk. And the governor said in a statement he looks "forward to continuing my work as an ally by signing the Reproductive Health Act into law."
The legislation would establish access to reproductive health care as a fundamental right, meaning the state would be barred from blocking a woman or man's access to diagnostic testing, contraception, pregnancy benefits, abortion procedures or other related benefits.
Such rights also include those enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, or ones identified by the nation's highest court as needing strong safeguarding from government interference.
Republican Sen. Dan McConchie, from Hawthorn Woods, asked during Thursday's meeting why this measure made access to abortion procedures a fundamental right, when "Roe v. Wade states that abortion is not an absolute right."
"It's basically the right of every person to make and effectuate decisions about their own health care, and that has been recognized as fundamental by the courts, not just the federal courts but also the state courts," said Colleen Connell, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Christopher Manson, vice president of Government Relations for OSF Healthcare, testified that what his group is "most concerned about" is being forced to cover abortion procedures through its insurance plans.
The Reproductive Health Act mandates that insurance companies regulated by Illinois provide abortion coverage if they also provide coverage for pregnancy-related benefits. An amendment was added to allow for cost-sharing provisions, such as co-payments.
"Small faith-based employers would be provided no exemption, especially given the fact that abortion will now be a fundamental right should (this bill) become law," Manson said.
Bush pushed back. She said because the legislation leaves in place and strengthens the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, churches and religious employers would not have to cover abortion procedures.
McConchie asked Bush if a discussion on this topic could continue on the Senate floor when the Reproductive Health Act was called for a vote, presumably so Bush could establish what is known as legislative intent -- if there is ever a legal challenge involving the measure and a judge finds the language to be unclear, he will turn to the General Assembly's meaning.
"I'm certain that there will be questions about intent," Bush said.
Sen. John Mulroe, a Democrat from Chicago, asked for clarification on the latest point in a pregnancy that a woman could get an abortion procedure if this measure became law, given the "misinformation out there being disbursed everywhere."
"Two-thirds of all abortions happen before eight weeks, 89 percent happen before 12 weeks, and less than 1 percent happen after 24 weeks -- to characterize abortion care by those extreme situations is neither accurate nor medically correct," said Amy Whitaker, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Proponents of the legislation cite recent action by states such as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and Louisiana to pass abortion restriction statutes as proof why Illinois needs the Reproductive Health Act to become law.
"I'm really fighting for women that are coming after me," Bush said Monday. "They shouldn't have to have children when they're not ready to."