Pritzker signs law safeguarding abortion protections in Illinois amid surge in out-of-state patients

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Reproductive rights advocates celebrated Friday after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation expanding protections for abortion patients and health care workers, as well as widening the pool of abortion providers, to help meet the recent spike in demand.

The law — which shields patients and providers from legal actions taken by other states — comes as Illinois faces a massive surge in out-of-state abortion patients following U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June.

Pritzker called the measure “nation-leading legislation,” and added that Illinois has an obligation to support reproductive freedoms “for our residents and those who seek safe haven.”

“We’ve seen out-of-state patients who’ve been denied their rights in other states coming to Illinois for abortion care,” he said. “Our clinics have been doing their best to serve the people seeking to exercise their rights, but they’ve been overwhelmed. The U.S. Supreme Court has forced women, especially those most marginalized, to flee their home states in search of safe health care.”

The legislation also includes protections for transgender patients seeking gender-affirming health care in Illinois, medical treatment that has come under fire in many GOP-led states across the country. So far this year, more than two dozen bills to restrict transgender health care access have been introduced in 11 states, primarily in the Midwest and South.

The new Illinois law, dubbed the Patient and Provider Protection Act, prevents health care providers from losing their Illinois medical licenses if they’ve had a license revoked in another state for performing a procedure that’s legal in Illinois. The legislation also bars health insurance companies from charging more for out-of-network care if in-network providers object to medical care for moral reasons.

Additionally, the law allows advanced practice nurses and physician assistants to perform surgical abortions that don’t require general anesthesia.

About a dozen states have laws that permit advance practice clinicians to provide procedural abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports reproductive rights.

“Allowing advanced practice clinicians to provide abortion care will help increase access to safe, effective abortions,” Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in an email.

Illinois reproductive rights advocates and abortion clinics have urged lawmakers to expand the pool of abortion providers ever since the demise of Roe ended federal abortion rights, leaving the matter up to individual states.

Illinois has strong reproductive protections, with some of the most liberal abortion laws in the nation. The 2019 Reproductive Health Act established abortion as a “fundamental right” in Illinois. Pritzker has also urged the next General Assembly to offer voters in 2024 a proposal that would guarantee the right to abortion in the state constitution.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the Reproductive Health Act into law with bill sponsors Illinois State Sen. Melinda Bush, left, and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, right, at the Chicago Cultural Center on June 12, 2019.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the Reproductive Health Act into law with bill sponsors Illinois State Sen. Melinda Bush, left, and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, right, at the Chicago Cultural Center on June 12, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Yet after the fall of Roe, many states in the Midwest and beyond have either banned terminating a pregnancy or severely restricted abortion access.

Illinois abortion providers say they’re seeing an unprecedented number of abortion seekers crossing state lines to terminate a pregnancy here, and those patients are traveling greater distances from a larger number of states.

One clinic in southern Illinois said patients have had to wait roughly three weeks to schedule an abortion, when appointments used to take several days. Wisconsin health care providers over the summer began traveling to Illinois to provide abortion care and help meet the growing demand.

With widespread Democratic support, the bill had passed the Senate 41-16 and the House 70-39.

Outgoing state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, who unsuccessfully challenged Pritzker in the November election, has called the measure “pure evil.”

“This is wrong,” the Republican lawmaker said during the Senate debate, which took place before his term ended Wednesday. “God help us.”

Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler cautioned that the state’s “shameful record will only get worse under this new measure allowing non-physicians to do surgical abortions.”

But Planned Parenthood President and CEO Jennifer Welch praised the law for protecting the “health care refugees forced to flee their home state to receive abortion and gender-affirming therapy in Illinois.”

“Last year, when the Supreme Court took away our freedoms when they overturned Roe, Illinois immediately felt the impact as state after state moved to ban or severely restrict abortion access,” she said. “Sometimes it looks like a race to the bottom in our neighbor states.”

She added that those same states are “hostile to the LGBTQ community,” and restrict access to gender-affirming health care, marriage equality and other rights.

Bill sponsor state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, called the measure “the first step” in what will likely be “a long journey.”

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy participates in a discussion about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and severely restricting abortion rights across the country on June 30, 2022, in Chicago.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy participates in a discussion about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and severely restricting abortion rights across the country on June 30, 2022, in Chicago. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

“As legislatures reconvene across the country, we will have to respond to the new ways that bully states will come up with to attack patients and providers,” she said. “We have to continue to build our capacity to meet the needs for care in both the reproductive and gender-affirming care spaces. … This is the fight of my life.”

Pritzker and the legislature’s Democratic leaders had said they would call a special session immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, though they never followed through, opting instead to address reproductive rights in the just-completed lame-duck session.

This most recent abortion legislation was considered another political victory for Pritzker, who was already in the national spotlight after signing into law one of the country’s toughest bans on military-style firearms earlier this week.

That measure immediately prohibited the sale of these types of weapons and required current owners to register gun serial numbers with Illinois State Police by Jan. 1. The legislation comes months after a Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park; the alleged shooter’s weapon was an AR-15 style of rifle.

The Associated Press and Chicago Tribune’s Dan Petrella contributed.

eleventis@chicagotribune.com

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January 13, 2023 at 05:15PM

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