The chances of a special fall legislative session on abortion are fading.
The prospect of state lawmakers returning to Springfield ahead of the November election for a special session to expand protections for reproductive health care in Illinois appears to be fading, even as providers and advocates for the abortion urge Democratic Governor JB Pritzker to come to their aid.
Pritzker, who has made his support for abortion a central theme of his re-election campaign, announced his intention to convene lawmakers in special session “in the coming weeks” almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court released its June 24 decision reversing the federal protections granted by Roe v. Wade.
By July 5, that deadline had extended to “months to come,” according to a joint statement by Pritzker and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside and Senate Speaker Don Harmon. of Oak Park. There have been discussions behind the scenes of a possible return after Labor Day.
Now, despite positioning himself as a national leader on abortion rights, Pritzker defers to the legislature to know when the time is right to address issues such as allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants perform abortions and extend legal protections for patients and health care workers.
“The Legislature needs to do its job, and it’s working hard,” Pritzker said Tuesday at a campaign event at Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ Loop headquarters.
Pritzker also acknowledged that for any measures passed before the end of the year to take effect immediately, near-unanimous support from Democratic supermajorities in the legislature would be needed. After January 1, these measures would only require a simple majority to take effect immediately.
“There are things that … could be done with a supermajority, some things that require a simple majority,” Pritzker said. “Again, the Legislature is working on all of these things.”
Democrats hold majorities of 73 to 45 in the House and 41 to 18 in the Senate, but have not always been united in measures to increase access to abortion. When Democrats voted last year to repeal the state’s parental notification law, for example, the measure wiped out every chamber with just two votes to spare.
Welch has called on nine House Democrats to work with advocates on legislative proposals, but those negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. State Representative Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, a staunch abortion rights supporter who has been tasked with leading the group, did not respond to a request Tuesday to comment on its progress.
Senate Democrats haven’t announced an official negotiating team, but Harmon spokesman John Patterson said, “There are internal discussions going on.”
Pritzker spoke to reporters on Tuesday after meeting privately with the heads of the Illinois and St. Louis regional chapters of Planned Parenthood, as well as Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation. of America.
Planned Parenthood leaders all praised Pritzker for his support for abortion access and argued for the importance of the Nov. 8 election in determining the future of reproductive health care in Illinois and across the country. all the countries.
“Everyone needs to understand that abortion is on the ballot in November,” said Jennifer Welch, who leads the group’s Illinois chapter.
Pritzker’s opponent, Republican Senator Darren Bailey of Xenia, opposes abortion except when the mother’s life is in danger.
While former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation in 2017 repealing the state’s so-called Trigger Act, which would have banned abortion when Roe was overturned, and Pritzker in 2019 signed another measure enshrining Access to process as a “fundamental right” in state law, advocates say there is still more to do. This is especially true as more states, such as neighboring Missouri and Indiana, impose new restrictions or bans on abortion services, sending thousands more patients to Illinois.
Although they presented a unified front on Tuesday, the defenders exerted some pressure on Pritzker and the Democratic-controlled legislature to act.
In a press release two weeks ago, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri said Illinois “falls behind other reproductive health-friendly states” in not allowing nurses practitioners and other health workers qualified to perform abortions.
“Illinois has yet to take meaningful steps like this that can address key post-Roe capacity challenges, especially for downstate providers,” the group said.
Pritzker and other leaders have indicated support for such a change, but say it must be done through legislation rather than executive order or administrative rule.
Advocates also called on the state to help pay for travel and other logistical supports for patients who come to Illinois for abortions.
But at Tuesday’s event, Yamelsie Rodríguez, who leads the St. Louis area affiliate, said that in crafting legislative solutions to these issues “it’s really, really important to us that we use this language correctly”.
“It is more important to do it right than to do it quickly, because we are the suppliers who will have to live with the decisions and the laws in the future,” Rodríguez said.
Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, has frequently contributed to abortion rights causes over the years. He made two contributions totaling $1 million to Planned Parenthood’s federal super PAC in 2016 and gave $12,000 to the group’s Illinois PAC in January after donating $2,500 to that group during its first campaign. for the governorship in 2018.