The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade essentially places the question of abortion legality in states’ hands. Already, seven states with so-called trigger laws have abortion bans in effect, instantly closing down medical providers. More states are poised to enact bans soon.
For other states, however, the fate of abortion rights rests with state legislatures — and the political makeup of those legislative bodies. The results of midterm elections in November may well determine whether a pro-choice state remains as is, or becomes one more jurisdiction where women are deprived of the right to make their own reproductive health decisions.
In Illinois, where abortions remain legal, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called for a special session later this summer to “further enshrine our commitment to reproductive health care rights and protections.”
Among the measures likely to be considered is legislation that would safeguard Illinois abortion providers from legal action from states that restrict or ban the procedure. Another measure, already passed in the Illinois House, would ensure providers would not lose their licenses in this state if they were disciplined by other states that prohibit abortion.
Those are sound, sensible steps to take by a state committed to taking on the role as a safe haven for abortion access for women living in states where the procedure is banned. But Illinois cannot stop there.
Changes in who controls Springfield can lead to changes in state law — specifically, Illinois’ codification of abortion rights, known as the Reproductive Health Act. As it stands, Democrats rule over both the executive and legislative branches in Springfield. But nothing is static in politics, and a future Springfield run by enough conservative, anti-abortion politicians could jeopardize Illinois’ status as a pro-choice state.
Also weighing in the balance is the future makeup of the Illinois Supreme Court. Democrats hold a slim 4-3 majority, but two seats are up for election in November. As Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on the day of Roe’s overturning, “We are one Supreme Court justice away in Illinois from having a very different conversation … We cannot afford to go back.”
There’s a long-term way to help firewall Illinois’ right to choose. What also should be on the upcoming special session agenda is an earnest, reasoned discussion about the viability of a state constitutional amendment codifying abortion rights in Illinois. As soon as the November general election, Democrats could place on the ballot an advisory referendum gauging Illinoisans’ willingness to enshrine the right to choose in the state constitution.
Illinois would not be alone. Residents of California will be able to vote to add abortion rights to their state’s constitution on their midterm ballots.
If the advisory referendum gets strong backing in November, that could set the stage for an all-out push for a state constitutional amendment that bestows a sense of permanence on Illinois’ right to choose. A proposed amendment to the state constitution needs approval from at least three-fifths of voters in the referendum, or a majority of voters participating in that election.
A woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions shouldn’t be subjected to political trade winds. Before the high court’s majority ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, “the government could not control a woman’s body or the course of a woman’s life: It could not determine what the woman’s future would be,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent. Now that Roe has been set aside, Illinois must safeguard its adherence to the tenet of pro-choice by shielding it from future vulnerability to political agendas, regardless of whether that threat is imminent or more distant.
Illinois doesn’t hold sway over what lawmakers do in other states. But it can and should decide its own trajectory when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. It would be shortsighted to think that right is already fortified from the prospect of future administrations bent on its eradication. Now is the time to begin exploring the best way to ensure the right to an abortion in Illinois remains an immutable reality, no matter what party holds power.
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June 28, 2022 at 07:27PM