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The Democratic-controlled Illinois House late Wednesday approved two controversial measures, one that expands abortion rights for minors and another that seeks to prevent people from using a state law to skirt coronavirus vaccination mandates by citing moral or religious objections.
The House voted 62-51 to repeal a quarter-century-old law requiring parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The measure, approved Tuesday in the Senate, now heads to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has expressed his support.
On a 64-52 vote, the House approved a change to the decades-old Health Care Right of Conscience Act to specify that it does not apply to vaccine mandates or other measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. That measure, which Pritzker also supports, still requires approval in the Senate before going to the governor.
While the debate on those issues was ongoing in the House, the legislature’s majority Democrats unveiled a third draft of their proposed map of the state’s 17 congressional districts. The congressional map is the most pressing issue lawmakers are expected to address Thursday, the final scheduled day of their fall session.
Pritzker’s main priority of the fall session, a package of tax credits and incentives to attract electric vehicle manufacturers and suppliers to the state, has yet to see any movement.
Those pushing for repeal of the 1995 abortion notification law say it does nothing to protect the most vulnerable young people — those living in unsafe and unstable households. Opponents of the repeal argue that parents shouldn’t be kept in the dark about their children’s well-being, particularly when they decide to have an abortion, though they also tied it to larger concerns about parental rights.
Supporters also are seeking to secure Illinois’ place as a stronghold for abortion rights that are being restricted in other states.
“Illinois is different,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who supported repeal. “In Illinois, we trust women to make decisions about their bodies. We trust people to control their reproductive health.”
During a committee hearing on the proposal earlier in the day, Republican Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville questioned the argument from supporters of the repeal that most teens who become pregnant consult with a parent about that decision anyway. She also raised concerns that doing away with the notification requirement could prevent parents from knowing if their child has been abused.
“This is clearly an attempt to take away the knowledge of parents and what is happening in their minor (child’s) life,” Bourne said. “And by the way, something we didn’t get into, but the parents may not know unless this notification happens if (their children) are being abused, if they have been raped, if they are being trafficked, the parents would have no way of knowing other than this notification in many instances.”
The measure’s House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin, noted that doctors, nurses and other health care providers are considered “mandated reporters,” meaning they’re required under law to report to authorities whether a minor was a victim of abuse or neglect.
“Having to notify an abusive parent puts that young woman in jeopardy,” Moeller said. “That is the reason why we are here today.”
The law as it stands now allows minors to ask a judge to waive the notification requirement if they fear for their safety. Since 2013, when the law went into effect after years of legal challenges, judges granted more than 99.5% of bypass requests in Illinois, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which has argued the law serves no public policy purpose.
Abortion rights advocates have criticized the judicial proceedings for, among other things, forcing pregnant teens to share very personal, and potentially embarrassing, details about their sexual histories.
On Wednesday, former Cook County Judge Susan Fox Gillis testified in favor of the repeal, based in part on her time presiding over such cases.
“My colleagues and I tried to make the process as non-intimidating as we could, keeping the identity of the young woman anonymous, hearing these cases in our chambers instead of in a courtroom, not wearing our robes to lessen their anxiety, and being as accommodating as possible in scheduling these cases,” the former judge said. “But make no mistake: No matter what a judge does, these hearings remain intimidating for young women as they come before us.”
In votes on the repeal of parental notification and the changes to the right-of-conscience law, several Democrats broke with their party to join the Republican minority in opposition.
Supporters of the measure involving coronavirus vaccinations said they are seeking to clarify a law that was largely intended to allow doctors, pharmacists and other health care workers to refrain from performing abortions, dispensing contraceptives or providing other services to which they have a moral or religious objection.
The measure passed by the House specifies that it is not a violation of the law for any public official, employer or other organization “to take any measures or impose any requirements … to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19.”
“The bill before us today simply clarifies the well-established legislative intent of the Health Care Right of Conscience Act,” said Rep. Robyn Gabel, the Evanston Democrat who sponsored the measure. “That is all. Anyone who claims otherwise is engaging in the spread of misinformation.”
Republicans blasted the effort as a continuation of Pritzker’s “unilateral authority” during the pandemic, a “backdoor” vaccination mandate and “an end run around the judicial branch.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is absolutely atrocious,” said Rep. Adam Niemerg, a Republican from Dieterich. “This is unbelievable we’re considering this on the House floor. This is not about the Health Care Right of Conscience. This is about the last 18 months and unilateral authority from the governor.”
Some GOP lawmakers pushed back at the idea that they or their constituents were anti-vaccine or spreading misinformation.
“I want you to know that people have come into my office and said they get the flu shot every year,” said Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, a Republican from Jacksonville. “But they are concerned about this vaccine because it hasn’t been around for very long.”
Gabel often answered questions from Republicans opposed to the amendment by repeating her same talking points: The new measure was merely inserted into the right of conscience act to clarify the law, not change it. And the new measure “doesn’t affect any of their other rights under any other laws, particularly under federal law.”
Pritzker has made his handling of the pandemic a core of his campaign for reelection next year against four announced Republicans who have criticized the governor for overreach in mandating COVID-19 mitigation.
On Wednesday, Bull Valley Republican Gary Rabine contended Pritzker’s efforts to change the right to conscience law was an admission that his COVID-19 mandates are “illegal.”
“The governor has always known that Illinois’ Right of Conscience Act makes his mandates illegal. That’s why he is now trying to change the law — to make his illegal actions magically legal. This is Stalin-esque behavior from a tyrant,” Rabine said in a statement.
Rabine has said he is not vaccinated and does not need to be because he had COVID-19. His position runs counter to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rabine also has spread misinformation about the safety of the vaccine, falsely claiming “thousands” have died from the vaccine alone.
Rabine’s competitors for the Republican nomination for governor are state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo and Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg.
Earlier Wednesday, both chambers voted to send Pritzker a measure tweaking a law he signed this summer that creates elected school board in Chicago by 2027. After expressing support for an elected board during her 2019 mayoral campaign, Lightfoot opposed the law over concerns that it would weaken the mayor’s authority and harm academic gains at Chicago Public Schools
The proposal, a compromise with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was opposed the law, was approved on an 84-33 vote in the House and a 43-14 vote in the Senate.
It would do away with a requirement that the mayor get approval from the City Council for her appointments of 10 members and the board president when a partially elected, partially appointed panel takes effect after the November 2024 election. Lightfoot, who supported an elected board during her mayoral campaign before reversing course, was against having to go through aldermen for approval on those appointments.
The measure, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Kam Buckner of Chicago, also would put in place an immediate moratorium on school closures until the hybrid board is seated in January 2025. Under the current law, the moratorium doesn’t take effect until June 1.
Buckner’s proposal also specifies that school board positions will be unpaid, which raised an objection from Rep. Curtis Tarver, also a Chicago Democrat.
While acknowledging that other elected school board members across the state don’t draw a salary, Tarver said the issues they deal with pale in comparison to Chicago’s, like students having to go to school in areas of the city where there’s a high risk for gun violence.
“I want to say this more for my district who come after me about this, that I think we do need to pay people who are on that board,” said Tarver, who noted that members of the Chicago Police Board and the city’s Park District board get some form of compensation.
The Senate sponsor, Democratic Sen. Robert Martwick of Chicago, said he’s interested in pursuing compensation for board members in future legislation.
Also Wednesday, a day after members of the WNBA champion Chicago Sky visited the Capitol, a Senate committee advanced a measure that would allow the team’s home court, Wintrust Arena, to apply for a sports betting license.
The provision is part of a large gambling package that, among other changes, would allow limited betting on college teams in Illinois, but not on the performance of individual athletes. It also would set a March 5 deadline for the state to begin allowing sports gamblers to register online rather than in person at a sportsbook.
The House passed a similar proposal in the spring, but it stalled in the Senate.
Petrella and Pearson reported from Chicago.