Illinois State Representative On Abortion Rights Bill
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Illinois State Legislature has passed a bill making abortion a fundamental right. The bill, called the Reproductive Health Act, now heads to the desk of Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, who has said he's eager to sign it. That comes after several other states, including Illinois' neighbor Missouri, have passed laws that would ban or even criminalize abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.
Kelly Cassidy is a Democratic state representative from Illinois' 14th District on Chicago's North Side and the bill's sponsor in the state House of Representatives. She joins us now.
KELLY CASSIDY: Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, please tell us what the Reproductive Health Act changes in Illinois' state law.
CASSIDY: Ultimately, it changes very little. What it does is codify our status quo, for the most part. Our statutes were full of restrictions that had been passed by other administrations and had been prevented from being implemented by the courts.
But with the war on women that we are experiencing all around us, the fear, and it's very real, is that when Roe falls, those enjoined provisions would rise like zombie laws and come into effect. So we really had to clean those out of our statutes and ensure that there's a firewall around Illinois that protects women's reproductive health here in Illinois.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Reproductive Health Act says fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses don't have independent rights. Now, opponents of abortion rights in Illinois and elsewhere, as you know, might look at this bill and say, where do you draw the line on when a fetus counts as a person, or do you?
CASSIDY: Courts over the years have actually spoken directly to this. Without that provision, without that distinction, there is a risk that a fetus and a woman would be cast as adversaries from the very beginning of pregnancy. And so it's important that there be those protections so that a woman can carry out a pregnancy making her own independent health decisions, whether that is carrying a pregnancy to term or not. So that was one of the pieces that I think folks had trouble understanding.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say that this law is intended to create a firewall around the state, do you think that this is where things are headed - where certain states will allow access to abortions and other states simply won't?
CASSIDY: That's certainly my fear, and that was why this was so important to get passed before we adjourned. And, you know, ultimately, I've been working on this issue my entire adult life.
And I used to say, if Roe falls. And for the last year, I've been saying, when Roe falls. And it, frankly, still feels like a gut-punch every time I say it. But I think that there has been this very strategic and determined process by the other side to get cases into the pipeline that will ultimately lead to Roe falling.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that Democrats and people who support abortion rights have been outmaneuvered?
CASSIDY: Ultimately, what we've been is defeated in a national election and seen the courts loaded up with appointees whose positions reflect that election outcome. And that's the fear - you know, that the president ran promising to overturn Roe. And looking at these appointees to the courts, it's pretty clear that that's one promise he's probably going to be able to deliver on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the Chicago Tribune, there's a picture of you hugging State Senator Melinda Bush, who sponsored the bill in the state Senate. It was taken right after the bill passed, and it looks like both of you are very emotional. Can you describe that moment?
CASSIDY: It was incredibly emotional. I mean, it was nearly midnight on what was supposed to be the last day of session. We filed this bill in February and struggled all session long just to get a hearing. And so for it to come down to the wire in this way, while states were passing these bans all around us, it just became so imperative and so frightening in many ways that what you're seeing there is relief.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kelly Cassidy, Illinois state representative and sponsor of the state's Reproductive Health Act, protecting access to abortion. The bill has passed the Illinois State Legislature and now goes to Governor J.B. Pritzker, who is expected to sign it.
Thank you very much for being with us.
CASSIDY: Thanks much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.