Column: Abortion ruling could upend political order, increase demand for services in south suburbs

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The leaked draft indicating the U.S. Supreme Court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade and give states the ability to restrict access to abortions is a game changer, to say the least.

The ruling abolishing access to abortion as a constitutional right would reverberate like an earthquake. Criminalizing abortion would rattle political dynamics and upend social order from coast to coast. The radical change would reach everywhere, including communities and people in the south and southwest suburbs.

“We are about to enter an entirely new landscape on abortion in the United States,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.

Volunteers with Scheidler’s group demonstrate every summer along busy roads throughout the suburbs. I have covered their events in Orland Park, Mokena, Crestwood and other towns over the years.

The Southland is home to about 1 million people living in more than 60 different communities. No facility in the region offered abortion services until late 2017, when Planned Parenthood opened a clinic in Flossmoor.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois said at the time organizers anticipated a day when Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and other states might escalate restrictions on access to abortion to outright bans. The draft Supreme Court ruling appears to indicate that day is imminent.

“Soon, in many states, unborn children will be welcomed back into the human family, recognized as our brothers and sisters and protected by law,” Scheidler said in a statement about the draft ruling. “In other states, like my home state of Illinois, these children are under constant threat.”

The south suburbs are poised to become a battleground in the 50-year war over abortion.

“Our task now is to bring this expansion of human rights — the fundamental right to life — to every state,” Scheidler said. “To do that will require a radical transformation of our laws, our health care system, our economy and our very way of life.”

In the near term, the Southland and other parts of Illinois could see a surge in “medical tourism.” People from states with more restrictive laws may travel here to undergo procedures. That could increase demand for hotels, transportation and other services.

Some corporate employers already have chosen sides in the debate and promised to cover thousands of dollars in costs for employees to travel to other states to receive health care, including abortions.

Despite conservative propaganda to the contrary, Illinois already is an attractive destination for businesses because of its well-trained workforce, solid infrastructure and access to interstate transportation. Overturning Roe v. Wade could make the Land of Lincoln even more attractive to business investment and job growth, which would ease the tax burden on homeowners.

Instead of talking about a population exodus, Illinois could see an influx of new residents as people flee states where rights are restricted. Other health care providers may seek to meet increased demand by offering abortion services in the area, leading to potential disputes over zoning, police protection and other concerns.

Brian Westbrook, right, founder and executive director of Coalition for Life St. Louis, speak Dec. 1, 2021, during a prayer vigil next to a Planned Parenthood facility in Flossmoor. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

Suddenly, none of the political talking points about inflation, unfunded pension liabilities, crime and other issues seem to matter as much as basic freedom to live your life the way you choose.

“Abortion is going to suffocate every other issue,” former Gov. Jim Edgar told Illinois Politico the other day. “It’s going to change the political landscape and what people talk about and what people worry about.”

When the high court issues its ruling this summer in a Mississippi case that could reverse the precedent of Roe v. Wade, religious protesters outside the Flossmoor clinic might allow themselves a “victory lap.” They may celebrate a moment that will represent the apex of a movement that claimed the moral high ground.

After a momentary suspension in midair, the political pendulum will begin its slow reversal in the other direction. Criminalizing abortion might be the issue that finally motivates young people, especially young women, to vote in every election.

Our national experience with abortion may be about to enter a phase similar to our experiment with Prohibition. From 1920 to 1933, the 18th Amendment imposed a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages.

The temperance movement succeeded in outlawing alcohol, for a time. Alcohol consumption, however, continued. Al Capone and other criminals got rich and tax coffers dried up. It was impossible to prohibit something a majority of people wanted. The nation learned a lesson, and the 18th Amendment was repealed.

Some worry right-wing activists will seek judicial, executive or legislative means to impose a nationwide ban on abortions. Then what? People would go to Canada, Mexico and other countries where American laws and courts have no power. They would seek illegal, unsafe procedures in the United States.

If states are allowed to outlaw abortion, some observers say the annual number of abortions performed is likely to remain about the same but the number of women who die from a lack of access to health care will increase dramatically.

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Soon a narrative may emerge like the experience of Savita Halappanavar, a young women who died of a septic miscarriage in 2012 because she was denied access to an abortion. The procedure was illegal at the time in her country, but her story shifted the debate and Ireland legalized abortion in 2019.

If other states outlaw abortions, expect more demonstrators to show up in Flossmoor to try to persuade women to reconsider their choices to terminate pregnancies. I encountered a large crowd outside the facility in December, the day the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Mississippi case.

One of the speakers was Brian Westbrook, founder and executive director of Right To Life St. Louis. Westbrook got a chuckle from the crowd when he related a story about how he told his mother he was going to Flossmoor. She thought he meant he would be more regularly taking care of his teeth.

Actually, Westbrook said, donors had funded an excursion for him to leave his home in Missouri and spend a couple months, possible more, trying to convince women to reconsider receiving abortions at Planned Parenthood’s Flossmoor clinic.

“We looked at our 10-year history and God was calling us to do significantly more,” Westbrook told the crowd in December. “Our new focus is not just St. Louis, but we are expanding well beyond, to Illinois and looking at 788 abortion facilities all around the United States.”

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.

tslowik@tribpub.com

via Chicago Tribune

May 6, 2022 at 05:15PM

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