The prospect of state lawmakers returning to Springfield before the November election for a special session to expand protections for reproductive health care in Illinois appear to be dimming, even as abortion providers and advocates push Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker to come to their aid.
Pritzker, who has made his support for abortion a central theme of his reelection campaign, announced plans to call lawmakers into special session “in the coming weeks” almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court released its June 24 decision striking down the federal protections afforded by Roe v. Wade.
By July 5, that timeline had extended to “the coming months,” according to a joint statement Pritzker issued with the legislature’s Democratic leaders, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside and Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park. There were discussions behind the scenes of a possible return after Labor Day.
Now, despite positioning himself as a national leader on abortion rights, Pritzker is deferring to the legislature on when the time is right to address issues such as allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform abortions and expanding legal protections for patients and health care workers.
“The legislature has to do its work, and it is hard at work,” Pritzker said Tuesday during a campaign event at the Loop headquarters of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Pritzker also acknowledged that in order for any measures passed before the end of the year to take effect immediately, near-unanimous support from the legislature’s Democratic supermajorities would required. After Jan. 1, those measures would only require a simple majority to take immediate effect.
“There are some things that … could be done with a supermajority, some things that take a simple majority,” Pritzker said. “So again, the legislature is working through all those things.”
Democrats hold majorities of 73-45 in the House and 41-18 in the Senate, but haven’t always been unified in moves to increase abortion access. When Democrats voted last year to repeal the state’s parental notification law, for example, the measure cleared each chamber with just two votes to spare.
Welch has tapped nine House Democrats to work with advocates on legislative proposals, but those negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, an outspoken proponent of abortion rights who was assigned to lead the group, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on its progress.
Senate Democrats have not announced a formal negotiating team, but Harmon spokesman John Patterson said, “There are ongoing internal discussions.”
Pritzker spoke to reporters Tuesday after meeting privately with the heads of the Illinois and St. Louis regional chapters of Planned Parenthood, along with Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The Planned Parenthood leaders all praised Pritzker for his support of abortion access and argued for the importance of the Nov. 8 election in determining the future of reproductive health care in Illinois and across the country.
“Everyone needs to understand that abortion is on the ballot in November,” said Jennifer Welch, who heads the group’s Illinois chapter.
Pritzker’s opponent, Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, opposes abortion expect when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
While former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation in 2017 repealing the state’s so-called trigger law, which would have outlawed abortion when Roe was overturned, and Pritzker in 2019 signed another measure enshrining access to the procedure as a “fundamental right” in state law, advocates say there is still more that can be done. That’s particularly true as more states, such as neighboring Missouri and Indiana, place new restrictions or bans on abortion services, sending thousands more patients to Illinois.
Although they presented a unified front Tuesday, advocates have been putting some pressure on Pritzker and the Democratic-controlled legislature to act.
In a news release two weeks ago, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri said Illinois “lags behind other reproductive health-friendly states” by not allowing nurse practitioners and other qualified health care workers to perform abortions.
“Illinois has yet to take meaningful action like this that can address major post-Roe capacity challenges, especially for downstate providers,” the group said.
Pritzker and other leaders have indicated their support for such a change but say it needs to be done through legislation rather than executive order or administrative rule.
Advocates also have called for the state to help pay for travel costs and other logistical support for patients who come to Illinois seeking an abortion.
But at Tuesday’s event, Yamelsie Rodríguez, who heads the St. Louis-area affiliate, said that in crafting legislative solutions to these issues “it’s really, really important for us that we get that language right.”
“It’s more important to get it right than to get it fast because we are the providers that are going to have to live with the decisions and what the laws are in the future,” Rodríguez said.
Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, has frequently contributed to abortion rights causes over the years. He made two contributions totaling $1 million to Planned Parenthood’s federal super PAC in 2016, and gave $12,000 to the group’s Illinois PAC in January following a donation of $2,500 to that group during his first campaign for governor in 2018
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August 30, 2022 at 05:51PM