Illinois legislators late Wednesday voted to repeal an abortion parental notification law and approved changes to another decades-old law so it can’t be used to evade state and local COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
The votes capped a busy legislative day that also brought a third revision to proposed Democratic-drawn congressional boundaries as lawmakers stared down a scheduled Thursday adjournment of their fall session.
The vaccine debate Wednesday night centered on the Health Care Right of Conscience Act sponsored by state Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston. It would amend an existing 44-year-old state law, which offers liability protections for medical practitioners unwilling to perform abortions or offer contraception on moral grounds.
But the law has been cited increasingly by educators and police officers trying to defend against potential job losses over their philosophical objections to being forced to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by their government employers.
Gabel’s amendment would explicitly note that the law does not offer protections for those wanting to invoke it to sidestep mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. It also would empower governments to terminate workers who don’t comply with vaccination orders.
“The act is being intentionally distorted by those who favor misinformation over fact and those who are using this act to justify their desire to thumb their noses by the mitigation efforts imposed by employers to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gabel said.
Over Republican opposition, the bill passed the House 64-52 and moves to the Senate. If it passes and Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signs it, the measure would go into effect next June.
The GOP slammed the measure as an attack on the personal freedoms of those who choose not to be vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 5.5 million Illinoisans were not fully vaccinated or vaccinated at all, according to state public health data.
“Let’s give people credit for having individual rights and deciding what they think is right for their body,” said Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb.
The original state law the governor wants to amend dates back to the first legislative push to codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortions.
The initial law protected health care providers and hospitals from liability if they refused to perform abortions on moral grounds. It bore similarities to other laws being enacted in statehouses across the country and in Congress after the landmark court opinion.
The Illinois law was amended in 1977 to extend those liability protections to medical practitioners who objected to providing contraception or family planning guidance as a right of conscience.
At no time during debates of either measure did state lawmakers say that the legislation had anything to do with vaccination mandates or public health emergencies caused by pandemics, state legislative transcripts show.
“Nothing in the healthcare right of conscience act was intended to cover a deadly global pandemic and allow people to just avoid the mitigations and keeping people healthy and safe,” Pritzker told reporters before Wednesday’s House vote.
Meanwhile, House members debated late into the night Wednesday over a Democratic repeal of the state’s 26-year-old parental notification law. It requires health care providers to notify parents, grandparents or guardians of girls 17 and under before performing abortions.
The effort to eliminate the last anti-abortion law in state statutes has taken on added prominence among Illinois Democrats in response to anti-abortion laws being passed in GOP-led states across the country – most notably Texas, which has all but outlawed abortions beyond six weeks.
“Illinois is different, and it’s going to stay different, and we’re going to finish the work today by closing the loophole in our firewall,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago.
Republicans tried in vain to block its passage, arguing that Illinois should not be a magnet for girls from states with abortion notification laws.
“The bill you’re voting on today will mean parents states away will have no opportunity or right to know their minor daughter has come to Illinois for an abortion,” said Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, in a floor speech that brought her to tears.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, passed the House by a 62-51 margin, meaning it can now move to Pritzker’s desk. He has pledged to sign the legislation.
In one last development Wednesday, Democrats posted a third plan to redraw the state’s 17 congressional districts for the next 10 years. Its backers are aiming to pass the measure before the General Assembly concludes its scheduled fall session Thursday.
The plan that was unveiled appeared to fortify the Democratic-majority, Chicago-area districts of U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood, Bill Foster and Sean Casten, who remains drawn into a district with first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Marie Newman.
The latest drawings keep a new, second Latino-leaning congressional district that stretches from Chicago’s north side to the western suburbs and pits four incumbent Republican congressmen and women in potential primary fights for two downstate districts.
Hearings on the new congressional map are scheduled Thursday in both the House and Senate.