As ‘island’ for reproductive rights, Illinois needs more federal help, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton testifies in Washington

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Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton testifies Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the impact of the Roe v. Wade reversal.

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Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton on Tuesday testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Illinois, now an “island” for reproductive rights, needs more federal support to handle an influx of patients coming to the state for abortions and more legal protections in place for doctors and abortion providers in a post-Roe v. Wade world. 

“Before the threats to Roe v. Wade were fully realized, Illinois was proactive, upholding bodily autonomy and protecting the right to an abortion,” Stratton testified. “And still, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has sent us down a dark, agonizing path.”

In his opening statement, Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the Supreme Court decision “the first time in America’s history that the Supreme Court has revoked a constitutionally protected right.”

Stratton’s appearance in Washington comes as 10 states have already banned abortions, and Illinois remains in the spotlight as a place for women to seek reproductive care. More bans are expected in the coming weeks.

Stratton, a mother of four daughters, is also featured in a Gov. J.B. Pritzker reelection campaign TV ad that began airing this week in which she appears with abortion rights supporters to tout the protections signed into law by Pritzker in anticipation of the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

“I come before you today because people throughout the entire Midwest are relying on our commitment to protect and preserve women’s rights — namely the right to an abortion,” Stratton said Tuesday. 

Stratton said patients are coming to Illinois from every surrounding state to seek care but also from states like Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. She painted a picture of what the state is now experiencing.

“It looks like the entire staff in our state’s abortion clinics fielding phone calls for appointments because the number of out-of-state patients has doubled since Roe v. Wade was overturned — and that is on top of the nearly 10,000 women who already came to Illinois seeking abortion care,” Stratton said. 

Stratton testified that Pritzker has asked President Joe Biden for more access to federal funds to support the demand of women coming into the state for reproductive health care and to create a centralized hub for providers and patients to ease the burden on abortion care providers in Illinois. 

Pritzker has already called for a special session to further protect reproductive rights in Illinois but has not yet set the dates. Stratton said “the potential criminalization of patients coming to our state is certainly top of mind in Illinois.”

“It’s not just the patients, it’s also the abortion care providers, that also could potentially risk that same sort of criminalization,” Stratton said. “And so we are working with our state’s leaders, are gathering to talk about how we can continue to expand and further enshrine reproductive rights into state law because again, everyone should be able to feel safe and be able to have access to health care between them and their physician.” 

Stratton was among five witnesses who testified before the committee, which also included Dr. Colleen P. McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. McNicholas practices in Missouri, where abortions are now banned, and in Illinois, where Planned Parenthood operates a center near the Missouri-Illinois border. 

Wearing a “bans off our bodies” button on her lapel, McNicholas testified that patients have traveled as far as 1,000 miles each way to seek reproductive health care in Illinois since the reversal.

“Almost overnight, our Illinois clinic has seen appointments triple, and that’s already on top of a double-booked schedule we were sustaining in the wake of Texas and Oklahoma’s abortion bans,” McNicholas said. “As we’ve long said, overturning Roe will not stop the need for abortion. The Supreme Court’s decision has already pushed people, the people each one of you represents, into extreme and sometimes dangerous circumstances in order to access one of the safest and most common health care procedures.”

McNicholas said doctors are now “afraid to make decisions that they know are the best health care for people” for fear of criminalization of their actions.

“The truth is that if we are setting up a system by which we are forcing people to sustain preventable morbidity and mortality, we are totally leaving an entire population of people behind,” McNicholas said. “We are telling women that not only are they not allowed the decision to control their own body, but now we’re not going to allow you to control your own body and make decisions when it means that you could potentially be leaving the three children you have behind when you die from that delayed care. It is quite disgraceful. It happens every single day.” 

Khiara M. Bridges, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, testified that the Supreme Court decision disproportionally affects people of color, with the abortion rates of Black people being three to four times higher than those of white people, the direct result of Black people’s high rate of unintended pregnancy due to a higher rate of poverty.

“Even if Black people attempted to self-manage abortion despite the threat of criminal punishment, as frequently as people of other races, we should fully expect that Black people will be more frequently and more harshly punished for breaking the law,” Bridges said, adding the decision highlights the need for a holistic and intersectional policy response that includes comprehensive paid family and medical leave.

Denise Hurley, director of the Center for Life, was among two anti-abortion advocates who testified before the committee. Hurley called Roe v. Wade “a shameful, dehumanizing and false characterization of the role that women and moms hold in our society.” 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the committee, said the Roe v. Wade reversal “corrected a wrong that has impacted millions of lives.” Grassley called it a “meticulous and well-reasoned opinion that returned the decision of abortion back to the states.”

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July 12, 2022 at 12:05PM

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