SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law Friday, Jan. 13, expanding access to abortion and other reproductive health care services.
House Bill 4664, passed Tuesday, Jan. 10, during the General Assembly’s “lame duck” session, came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and declaring that the federal constitution does not protect a woman’s right to abortion.
That decision triggered the reinstatement of long-dormant laws in other states that either banned or imposed severe restrictions on the procedure and prompted other states to impose new restrictions, resulting in a wave of patients from those states seeking services in Illinois, where abortion remains legally protected.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has forced women, especially those most marginalized, to flee their home states in search of safe health care,” Pritzker said at a bill signing ceremony in Chicago. “Here in Illinois, we know we have an obligation to support and protect reproductive freedom for our residents, and those who seek safe haven. And we must protect our doctors and nurses to the right to reproductive health care that has been the law of the land in Illinois and across the nation, really, for 50 years.”
The bill aims to address the increased demand for abortion services in Illinois by expanding the list of providers qualified to perform the procedure to include advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants when general anesthesia is not required. It also provides an expedited process for health care providers licensed in other states to obtain temporary licenses to practice in Illinois.
The bill also provides legal protections to health care providers who are sanctioned in other states if those sanctions are based solely on the fact that they performed a medical procedure that is legal in Illinois. That includes abortion services as well as “gender-affirming” treatments for transgender individuals.
Sponsors made clear that these protections are not available to health care professionals accused of genuine malpractice. But Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said it was ridiculous to offer protections to “lawbreakers.”
It also guaranties that abortion medications, HIV prevention drugs known as PEP and PrEP, and gender-affirming care will be covered by state-regulated insurance plans at no extra cost to consumers and requires local government employers to offer insurance plans that provide coverage for these treatments, as well as for birth control.
“Last year when the Supreme Court took away our freedoms, when they overturned Roe, Illinois immediately felt the impact as state after state moved to ban or severely restrict abortion access,” Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Illinois, said during the event. “Sometimes it looks like a race to the bottom in our neighbor states. And those same states are hostile to the LGBT community, restricting access to gender-affirming health care, equality, marriage equality and many other rights.”
After a flurry of last-minute negotiations on competing bills during lawmakers’ “lame duck” session before their new terms began on Wednesday, Jan. 11, debate turned emotional with sponsor Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, reprimanding Republican colleague Jil Tracy of Quincy, who referred to abortion as “immoral.”
“The same God that’s looking at you is also looking at me,” Villanueva said. “And guess what? It’s the same God that’s giving me the inspiration in order to be able to do this. … You don’t get to decide what happens to my body. You don’t get to decide what happens to the bodies of a lot of different people from other states that are coming to this state seeking refuge.”
Under the bill, Illinois would join California, Massachusetts and a handful of other East Coast states in establishing “shield laws” protecting information about abortions from being subject to subpoenas and orders for witness testimony issued from courts in other states.
“I understand that you may not agree with whether or not [abortion] should have been illegal in other states,” Bryant said. “But the fact is that is a doctor who’s performing an illegal act in another state and we’re going to ask them to come to Illinois — and, in fact, we’re going to expedite their licenses in order to do that.”
In the House, all but three of the 71-member Democratic majority voted for the bill; Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur has consistently voted against abortion-related bills during her time in the legislature, while two other Democratic members were absent.
The bill received unanimous support from all 41 Democrats in the Senate, despite earlier reservations from the caucus about provisions that would require insurance plans regulated by the state to cover certain medications with no copays. Those would include abortion medications typically used up to about 10 weeks of pregnancy, the HIV prevention drugs infections PrEP and PEP, as well as gender-affirming hormones.
The state doesn’t have the power to regulate most employer-provided insurance plans in the private sector, exempting those plans from the required coverage. Still, the bill would apply to thousands of individuals who buy their own health insurance or are public employees in Illinois.
House sponsor Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, maintains the extra cost to taxpayers would be negligible, as many insurers already cover those medications without co-pays.
Additionally, if a patient is forced to go-out-of-network because their provider covered by insurance refuses to perform reproductive health care or gender-affirming care under the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act, the legislation requires there not be any increased cost for that out-of-network care.
The new law took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.