Amid protests, Illinois prepares for Supreme Court to take up abortion bans

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Amid protests following bills passed in multiple states to severely restrict or essentially outlaw abortion, abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates in Illinois are preparing for a possible battle here.

From the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C., where the fight will likely land, to cities and towns around the country, abortion rights supporters held "Stop the Ban" rallies Tuesday. The movement got a jump in Chicago, where a rally and march were held Monday evening.

"The bans happening around the country to remove access to safe and legal abortions are not going to stop abortions from happening," said Julie Lynn of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. "They are just going to stop safe abortions from happening.

The "National Day of Action to Stop the Bans" came in response a near-total ban on abortion recently signed into law in Alabama, as well as bills enacted or nearing passage in Mississippi , Kentucky , Ohio , Georgia and Louisiana aimed at banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can happen in the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant. Missouri lawmakers have passed an eight-week ban with no exceptions for rape and incest.

The Alabama law both bans and essentially outlaws abortion, making performing abortions a felony at any stage of pregnancy with almost no exceptions, including for rape or incest. The only exception allowed is to preserve a mother's life.

"I understand the discomfort with a woman having a pregnancy when she was raped, but the baby is a victim too, the baby isn't the perpetrator," said Ann Scheider of Illinois' Pro-Life Action League.

None of the laws has taken effect, and all will likely be blocked while legal challenges play out. Ban supporters hope one or more of the measures might reach the Supreme Court and possibly trigger reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Scheidler said the recent bans and response from abortion rights groups show her side is winning. She predicted one of the heartbeat bills will be the test case for Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups fear with a conservative-leaning court, Roe could be overturned.

"When, not if, something gets to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, Illinois is going to be ready and we are going to have laws in place to ensure access is abortion is safely a right for everybody," Lynn said.

In 2018, then-governor Bruce Rauner signed into law HB 40, which provides for taxpayer-funded abortions for state employees and the poor. In March 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit challenging the law. And in January 2019, Governor JB Pritzker signed an executive order to ensure the state fully enforces HB 40, now known as Public Act 100-0538. The executive order instructs all state employee group health insurance plans to give women extended reproductive coverage, including for abortions.

State lawmakers are also considering a bill that modernizes Illinois' 44-year-old abortion law by removing the procedure from the criminal code and treating it as healthcare.

Scheidler said she thinks that bill is "very extreme."

The pending law in Illinois is called the Reproductive Health Act, and supporters will be pushing for passage at rally scheduled for Thursday at Daley Plaza.

While President Donald Trump has distanced himself from the most extreme abortion bans, Vice President Mike Pence has made it clear the Trump administration is "pro-life."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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