Texas abortion law: Here are 4 things to know about how it might affect Illinois

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to block a Texas law that bans most abortions as early as about six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant.

The law — considered among the most restrictive in the nation — is unconventional in its approach, because it permits any private citizen to sue abortion providers or anyone aiding women in terminating a pregnancy, including someone who provides women rides to an abortion clinic or helps fund the procedure. The measure prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Abortion rights activists fear the case could set precedence and other states might adopt similar laws, particularly some in the Midwest and southern swathes of the nation. Other state laws that have attempted such restrictive gestational limits on the procedure were previously blocked or struck down by the courts, citing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

Here are four things to know about the impact the Supreme Court ruling and the law in Texas might have on Illinois:

1. Is the right to an abortion threatened in Illinois? No, Illinois has firmly codified abortion rights, with some of the most permissive laws in the nation in terms of abortion access. The Reproductive Health Act, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019, established the “fundamental right” to an abortion here.

“Residents of Illinois can take slight solace in this moment,” said Ameri Klafeta, director of the Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “We must continue to defend and expand those protections. We recommit ourselves to this effort today as we think of the millions of people across the United States who now are at risk of losing their access to abortion due to the Court’s failure to act.”

Pritzker on Thursday said he was “deeply concerned about the anti-abortion legislation that was passed and signed in Texas and that the Supreme Court has now said they will not hear or overturn.”

He added that he remains “focused on making sure that here in Illinois we are a beacon of hope for women who need reproductive health,” including those traveling here from other states.

2. What about neighboring states in the Midwest? Opponents of abortion are hopeful that the ruling paves the way for more abortion restrictions in more states. Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, called the Texas law “a completely novel way of enforcing an abortion ban.”

“We encourage the other 49 states to catch up with Texas and continue this historic expansion of human rights,” he said.

While it’s hard to envision Illinois lawmakers enacting a measure like this, “it’s not at all hard to imagine a state like Missouri or Indiana following suit; and I could see other Midwestern states doing so as well,” he said.

3. Does this mean more women will travel to Illinois for abortion access? Activists from both sides of the abortion debate believe Illinois will see an uptick in travel here for the procedure.

“I think we’re definitely going to be seeing higher abortion rates in Illinois,” Scheidler said. “That trend will continue as other states enact other pro-life measures, whether we’re talking about measures that have already been upheld by the Supreme Court or measures that are completely new like this Texas law.”

Thousands of women already travel to Illinois from other states each year to access abortions. In 2019, roughly 7,500 crossed state lines for the procedure, about 16% of all terminated pregnancies in Illinois that year. The number of out-of-state abortions has increased every year since 2014, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data.

While it’s impossible to know the reasons for each individual decision to travel for the procedure, many experts have attributed the overall rise to increasing restrictions in other states.

4. Can Illinois services and providers handle any potential surge in patients that might come from this law, and others that could follow?

Jennifer Welch, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said her agency and its 17 health centers are already preparing for a possible increase in patients from other states.

“We know that there will be patients from other states,” she said. “Illinois is a haven in the Midwest. We will do everything we can to serve patients who are forced to come here from out of state.”

During the earlier days of the pandemic, she said, more Texas patients traveled to Illinois seeking abortions after their home state temporarily banned most abortions, saying they didn’t qualify as essential surgeries during the COVID-19 outbreak. Welch recalled that one patient traveled more than a thousand miles to terminate a pregnancy at a clinic in west suburban Aurora.

Welch added that this more recent Texas law, the gestational ban, “sets a dangerous precedent and it’s making a path for neighboring states (in the Midwest) to override well-established constitutional rights.”

“I absolutely do expect similar laws across the country,” she said. “I absolutely expect more to come.”

Chicago Tribune’s Dan Petrella contributed.


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