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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker wants a special session to deal with overturning of Roe v. Wade

Pro-abortion rights demonstrators hold signs and chant during a protest Saturday, May 14, 2022 in Chicago.
Matt Marton
Associated Press
Abortion rights demonstrators hold signs during a protest Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Chicago. Illinois politicians reacted swiftly Friday to the overturning of Roe v. Wade

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is asking for a special session of the state legislature to address Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that overturns Roe v. Wade, calling it a “direct assault” on the privacy and self determination of U.S. residents. He vowed to “fight like hell” to protect healthcare rights he says are codified in Illinois’ state law.

Pritzker is among numerous Illinois politicians issuing swift reactions to an opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court that ends constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years and allows individual states to ban the practice. Friday’s opinion by the court’s conservative majority is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states, according to the Associated Press.

“However, to women everywhere: abortion is still safe and legal in Illinois,” Pritzker’s office said in a statement, referring to a 2019 law that established abortion as a “fundamental right” for women in Illinois, safeguarding the procedure under state law.

Dubbed the Reproductive Health Act, the law established a “fundamental” right to abortion in Illinois, required health insurers to cover them, stripped husbands of a legal ability to block their wife’s abortions and safeguarded physicians from licensure sanctions or criminal penalties if they performed abortions, among other protections for abortion rights.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed the sentiment that Illinois and Chicago will remain a place for people to have safe and legally protected abortions, but called the decision “unfathomable and devastating.”

“Make no mistake: this decision will be used as precedent to gut the legal underpinnings used to protect against gender-based discrimination, which includes women’s rights, trans rights, immigrant rights, and of course, the right to same sex and interracial marriage,” Lightfoot said in a written statement.

Despite the protections in place in Illinois, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said the decision will lead to the denial of critical health care and “criminal consequences for women and health care providers in states eager to embrace draconian restrictions.”

Durbin, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that body will “explore the grim reality of a post-Roe America” in a hearing next month.

“I will keep fighting to enshrine into law a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. We cannot let our children inherit a nation that is less free and more dangerous than the one their parents grew up in,” Durbin wrote.

But many Illinois Republicans — including members of Congress who represent large swaths of rural and downstate Illinois — were celebrating Friday’s court decision.

“The Supreme Court was absolutely right to overturn previous, wrongly-decided abortion decisions,” U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, wrote in a statement. “Nothing in the Constitution confers the right to an abortion.”

Davis is in a tough primary fight for reelection against U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

The decision comes after decades of pressure from abortion opponents and was made possible due to the fact Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices to the court during his term.

In a video statement, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said, as a prosecutor, she would never use the office to prosecute providers or people seeking abortion. She also shared the story of her own abortion when she was 22 years old.

“A decision that I was able to make because the law of the land Roe versus Wade guaranteed me that right. My mother didn’t have that right when she drank turpentine to terminate a pregnancy before Roe was on the books,” Foxx said, adding that she’s “heartbroken and devastated” her daughter won’t have the same constitutional right to healthcare.

Foxx is just one of several politicians who said they’re processing the news personally.

Illinois U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, a Democrat, called the decision “barbaric.” Earlier this year, after a stunning leak of a draft opinion that indicated the court was planning to overturn Roe v. Wade, Newman told the story of her own abortion.

“If I had not had access to safe, legal abortion when I was 19, I would not be in Congress today. I am heartbroken thinking about the young women in the same position I was 40 years ago who have just lost their freedom to make that same decision,” Newman wrote in a statement Friday.

Lightfoot is expected to join abortion rights organizations and leaders at a mid-day press conference. After the leak of the draft opinion, Lightfoot announced the city would spend $500,000 to support people traveling to Illinois to receive an abortion. The funds will go towards organizations that provide transportation, housing and care to people undergoing an abortion.

Illinois has long been an oasis for people who are seeking abortions as neighboring states have restricted access, and is expected to be even more so given the court’s decision.

In Illinois, people can have an abortion up to the point of so-called “fetal viability” — when a fetus can survive outside the uterus — which typically occurs between 24 and 28 weeks, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That means people must carry a fetus for the final 12-16 weeks of their pregnancies. A person’s doctor determines when viability is, and Illinois makes exceptions to the ban if an abortion is necessary to preserve a patient’s life or health.

Illinois recently struck down what many abortion-rights advocates saw as a restriction for people seeking the procedure: a requirement that doctors notify the parents of a minor seeking an abortion.

Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.