Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed a sweeping abortion-rights measure Wednesday that he said represents a “giant step forward” in protecting reproductive rights in the state against the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
The move by the first-term governor allows him to fulfill one of his touchstone campaign pledges and positions Illinois as an abortion-rights oasis in contrast to a succession of Republican-led states that have enacted near-complete bans on the procedure.
“I promised Illinois would become a national leader in protecting reproductive rights and with the signing of the Reproductive Health Act, I’m keeping that promise,” Pritzker said to applause from abortion-rights supporters at a bill-signing ceremony in Chicago that felt like a campaign rally.
“In a time when too many states across the nation are taking a step backward, Illinois is taking a giant step forward for women’s health,” he said. “Today, we loudly proclaim that in this state, we trust women.
“The Reproductive Health Act ensures that women’s rights in Illinois do not hinge on the fate of Roe v. Wade or the whims of an increasingly conservative Supreme Court in Washington,” he said, drawing applause.
In 2017, the most recent year for which the state has data available, 39,329 girls and women obtained abortions in Illinois.
Of particular note, 5,528 abortions were obtained in Illinois that year by someone from out of state. That total is the highest since abortion providers were required to file data on the procedure with the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1994.
“Today, Illinois becomes the abortion capital of the country,” said Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, an anti-abortion Chicago-based law firm.
Breen, a two-term Republican House member from west suburban Lombard who lost reelection last fall, said he’s focused on protecting the current parental notification aspect of Illinois law from any legal challenges. He said he’s also investigating whether to embark on a legal challenge to the new state law — specifically if it mandates religious nonprofit organizations and small churches to cover elective abortions in their insurance plans for employees.
“We don’t want to be a destination state for abortion, we want to be a destination state for families and strong businesses,” Breen said. “We’re already known for bankruptcy and corruption. It’ll now be ABC — abortion, bankruptcy, corruption — in the state of Illinois under this Democrat supermajority and this governor.”
“This is legalized killing of preemie unborns,” Breen said.
Since the beginning of this year, 17 states — including Illinois neighbors Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri — have enacted abortion restrictions. Abortion opponents hope those moves will ignite a legal challenge that could be the platform for overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions.
WBEZ News Producer Alyssa Edes produced this story for broadcast.