Pro-life advocates in Illinois are urging lawmakers to oppose legislation that would allow the use of public money to fund abortions.
Illinois House Bill 40 (HB 40), currently awaiting a vote by the state’s House of Representatives, would strike from state law a provision that says Illinois’ medical assistance program cannot pay for abortions. The bill also would allow state workers’ health insurance plans to include coverage for abortions.
Illinois Right to Life is one of the pro-life organizations that opposes HB 40. Its director, Emily Troscinski, said the measure is “the most extreme abortion-expanding bill” she’s seen in her tenure at the organization.
“What it does is it provides free abortions for those on Medicaid for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy,” Troscinski said. Currently, state Medicaid funds cover “medically necessary” abortions or those in cases of rape, incest or a pregnancy that endangers the mother’s life.
The cost of HB40, if passed, could be huge in terms of lives lost, Troscinski said. “It’s unlimited, so our estimates are showing this could increase the number of abortions by 12,000 abortions a year.” That’s how many abortions were provided under Medicaid in 1978, the last time the law allowed such coverage in Illinois. Currently, Medicaid covers 108 abortions a year, Troscinski said.
The bill was first proposed in March 2015 but failed to pass in the General Assembly. It was reintroduced in 2016 following Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President, with a new provision that would allow Illinois to continue to perform abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We want to affirm that Illinois is a state where abortion will be safe and accessible,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), told the Associated Press in November. “There has never been such a threat to a woman’s right to choose as there is under (Donald) Trump.”
Troscinski said the provision is one way the bill’s sponsors are appealing to their fellow legislators. “That’s how they’re getting a lot of representatives to sign on it to, is by saying, ‘We have to keep abortion legal in Illinois.’”
Another troubling aspect of HB 40 for the pro-life community is that it removes language from the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 that identifies the unborn child as “a human being from the time of conception” and therefore “entitled to the right to life from conception” under state law.
“We have to ask ourselves what kind of cultural narrative this is creating in Illinois,” Troscinski said, noting that unborn children are considered human beings in homicide laws. But now some are arguing that personhood application doesn’t extend to cases of abortion.
The provision is an issue for Rep. Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor), who told Springfield’s State Journal-Register newspaper, “I take great exception to the section that removes the personhood of a baby.” Jesiel is on the House Human Services Committee, which approved HB 40 on Feb. 8 by a vote of 7 to 5.
Jesiel also pointed to another problem that pro-life advocates have argued about HB 40 – that lawmakers ought to be focusing more on fixing the state’s budget crisis. “I can understand exceptions for the health of the mother, those kinds of things, life happens,” Jesiel said. “But expanding it (abortion) without any restrictions is financially a very big problem. Let’s focus on the things that are of critical nature right now.”
In addition to protecting abortion in Illinois, removing personhood of the unborn and altering Medicaid and state workers’ health insurance coverage, HB 40 also would:
- Remove language that currently prohibits Illinois’ Department of Human Services from making grants to organizations that use such grants “to refer or counsel for, or perform, abortions.”
- Removes a measure that prohibits physicians who have been found guilty of “performing an abortion procedure in a willful and wanton manner upon a woman who was not pregnant at the time such abortion procedure was performed” from providing medical assistance to people eligible under Illinois’ Public Aid Code.
The Illinois General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Feb. 22. Illinois Right to Life and other pro-life organizations are urging citizens to take action now, Troscinski said. “We are urging every Illinoisan to call their state representative and urge them to no on this extreme bill.”
Pregnancy centers file suit against Illinois governor
In other life-related Illinois news, 18 pregnancy resource centers are seeking an injunction against a law they say interferes with their ability to fulfill their mission of promoting alternatives to abortion.
Senate Bill 1564, adopted last year and effective Jan. 1, 2017, amended the Health Care Right of Conscience Act to require health care facilities to adopt protocols that are “designed to ensure that conscience-based objections do not cause impairment of patients’ health and that explain how conscience-based objections will be addressed in a timely manner to facilitate patient health care services.”
The result is that pregnancy centers and pro-life doctors are required to talk about abortion as a legal treatment option, to discuss the “benefits” of abortion, and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society.
“What’s particularly pernicious about this law is that here in Illinois, they put the requirement to talk about abortion in the very statute that originally gave pregnancy centers and pro-life doctors the permission not to talk about abortion,” Olp said.
Because of the law, some pregnancy centers have been forced to change how they operate, he added. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.”
In addition to the 18 centers who filed the lawsuit on Feb. 9, the Thomas More Society also is representing two others who filed suit this month. Olp said they hope to have a hearing and decision on the injunction within a month; a favorable result would stay the law pending final resolution of the lawsuit.
More information about the lawsuit is available at thomasmoresociety.org/illinois-pregnancy-resource-centers-sue-governor-for-first-amendment-violations/. For updates on HB 40, which would allow publicly-funded abortions in Illinois, go to illinoisrighttolife.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Flynn is a writer in Springfield, Ill. This story first appeared on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website erlc.com.)