Reproductive Justice Bill in Illinois Mobilizes New Allies

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Reproductive Justice Bill in Illinois Mobilizes New Allies

Veronica Arreola

Illinois's reproductive justice advocates are backing one of the most comprehensive reproductive health bills the state has ever seen. And they're bringing in new allies for the fight.

who has been to a choice-related rally in northern Illinois, pro or con, knows the man in the trench coat and fedora. Illinois is home
to Joseph Schielder, defendant in NOW
v. Schiedler
, the lawsuit that attempted to hold the anti-abortion leader
and his followers accountable for shutting down clinics in the 1980s and 1990s.
His son was at the helm of protests and frivolous lawsuits when Planned
Parenthood Illinois opened a new health clinic in Aurora, a suburb west of
Chicago in October of last year.

Because anti-choice forces are so
well-organized in Illinois, women in our state can face serious challenges to
accessing reproductive health care. The battle is not relegated to cities and towns outside of
Chicago. In 2006, a pharmacist in Chicago refused to fill a woman’s
prescription for contraception. And the recent fight to open the new health center
in Aurora made it clear that the pro-choice community must find a way to
mobilize its advocates as effectively as the opposition. It demonstrated how critical
it is that we ensure that the right to access reproductive health care services –
including abortion services – is protected on a state level.

And there’s little comfort the
federal government will provide adequate protection for reproductive rights.
With the Roberts and Alito Supreme Court appointments, and last year’s decision on the
Federal Abortion Ban, the status of Roe looks more and more precarious. If John McCain wins in
November, he’s likely to nominate the anti-choice justice who would help to overturn Roe.

That’s why the pro-choice community, and many of its allies
in Illinois, have come together to support the Reproductive Justice and Access Act
(RJAA), or House Bill 5610. Introduced in February by Illinois
State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, the RJAA would do the following:

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  • Ensure that each
    individual has as many options as possible when it comes to making decisions
    about their own reproductive heath care.
  • Reduce unintended pregnancies through comprehensive sex
    education rather than abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
  • Protect and expand access to birth control (including
    emergency contraception) for all individuals in Illinois.
  • Ensure that the government cannot interfere with an
    individual’s right to have a child or to terminate a pregnancy.

The RJAA would ensure that no matter what an individual’s
unique social and economic circumstances happen to be, each one of us has the
right to make personal decisions about our bodies, our health care, and our
reproduction without government interference. This includes access to funding for pregnancy and abortion services.
It would also ensure that each
individual has accurate information and access to a full range of reproductive
health services including pre-natal care, access to adoption services and the
ability to safely terminate a pregnancy. Gaylon Alcaraz, Executive Director of
the Chicago Abortion Fund, puts the importance of this bill to the women CAF
serves this way: "This is a true opportunity to give women full control
over their reproductive health, birth control options with access and a way to
pay for it. It would give them some true freedom."

To be successful, this bill will require 60 votes in a
chamber that is not always majority pro-choice. The battle is uphill,
but activists are optimistic. Too many elected officials in Illinois complain about the rate of
unintended pregnancies, yet vote for policies that deny access to
contraception and teach our children myths about sexuality
that leave them unprotected and unprepared. This bill ensures that all Illinois citizens will have access to information
that will help reduce abortions. While some elected officials may balk
at supporting a bill that ensures abortion access, they may be won over by the incorporation of medically
accurate sex education in the classroom.

This bill is broad and has something for everyone to get behind and support. Not everyone voting for it will like every aspect, but advocates hope legislators will find enough that they do like in it to sign on and pass this bill into law. "Illinois NOW is proud
to be working on this exciting new legislation. We are committed to work for as
long as it takes to pass the Reproductive Justice and Access Act," stated
Susan Bramlet-Lavin, Executive Director.

What will make this fight easier is the wide range of allies coming together to turn the bill into law. The big guns are present – the Illinois affiliates of Planned
Parenthood, NOW, and the ACLU – but so are smaller state-wide organizations that represent
women of color, youth, persons with disabilities, and other organizations most
would not think of as pro-choice – organizations such as the AAUW, National
Council on Jewish Women, and Mujeres Latinas en Accion. The coalition is broad
because the basic idea that women should have access to information and make
their own decisions transcends ethnicity, class, and even political background.
President and CEO of Mujeres Latina en Accion Maria Pesqueira says her organization is
proud to stand behind this bill:

"All women should have options and access
to information to make the healthiest decision for whatever situation they are
in. Latinas are the least insured in Illinois and the nation. We have the
highest rate of cervical cancer and are the fastest growing population for HIV
infection for those in marriages. Despite a national trend downwards in teen
pregnancies, Latinas continue to climb. These are all reasons why reproductive
issues matter to our community."

which earned a B- on the latest NARAL Pro-Choice America report card, has been
described as an oasis in a desert of anti-choice laws. Surrounding Illinois are
Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and, for good measure, Michigan. These states in total earned a C+,
D, and four Fs, respectively, on the latest NARAL Pro-Choice America "Who
Decides?" report card. It’s critical that we pass
this legislation, not only for women in Illinois, but for the women in our
region who count on our state to be a safe haven for access
to reproductive health services.

To find out how you can get involved in the fight for Ilinois’s reproductive justice bill, visit