Almost half of the entire Illinois House has signed up to sponsor an anti-abortion bill this year.
The proposal is an exact replica of a federal law that ostensibly protects infants who are “born alive” during botched abortion procedures. Opponents say that the bill is merely a backdoor attempt to ban almost all abortions, but proponents point to the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy voted for it in the U.S. Senate.
The difference, say opponents, is that the federal legislation didn’t trigger any criminal laws, whereas the state bill would tap into a whole host of Illinois statutes:
“In determining the meaning of any statute or of any rule, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative agencies of this State, the words ‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child,’ and ‘individual’ shall include every infant member of the species Homo Sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”
That’s a pretty broad definition, say opponents, and would probably mean that many abortions would be illegal.
House Speaker Michael Madigan killed the same bill last year by stranding it in the Rules Committee after it had passed the Senate. This year, Madigan, who is anti-abortion, has said that he will allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote.
Madigan assigned the legislation to the House Judiciary Committee, where at least eight of its 14 members are co-sponsors.
And then something truly unprecedented happened. Lobbyists for both sides, anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights, sat down and worked out a tentative compromise.
The lobbyists had never even spoken to each other before. “Compromise” was not a word in their vocabularies. If you’re not with them on everything, then you’re against them and are automatically branded an enemy.
But the huge popularity of the bill threatened to steamroll the pro-abortion rights side and possibly enshrine some seriously anti-abortion language in state law.
Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, the Judiciary Committee chairman, quickly saw the writing on the wall and played a major role in coaxing the pro-abortion rights side to the table.
And the anti-abortion side, encouraged by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, was intrigued by the possibility of achieving a historic “agreed bill” and maybe even a unanimous vote on an abortion issue. And if they were sincerely interested in saving babies that are “born alive” during abortions, a compromise narrowing the scope to only that issue would be the right thing to do. They chose the compromise.
Not everyone from both sides agreed to the talks, particularly some people on the fringe of the anti-abortion movement. But Fritchey and Phelps worked hard to keep the negotiations on track, and an agreement was reached last week.
There was only one hitch: The anti-abortion side wanted an assurance that the legislation would be called in the Senate after it passed the House. They didn’t want to stick their necks out on an agreement with “the enemy” only to see it die in the Senate. Such a disastrous result could seriously harm their credibility with the anti-abortion movement.
A pro-choice emissary was sent to Senate President Emil Jones, who reportedly told the lobbyist that he would call the agreed bill for a floor vote after it passed the House. But the anti-abortion advocates wanted one of their own to hear the pledge, so a couple of anti-abortion Senate Democrats were sent in to talk to Jones. The senate president was insulted that his word wasn’t trusted (even though it was probably the word of the pro-choice lobbyist that wasn’t completely trusted by the nervous pro-lifers) and withdrew his pledge. Jones told his two members that Madigan never committed to supporting a bill that was still in the other chamber, nor would he.
Ironically, if the anti-abortion groups go ahead and pass the bill in the House without the compromise amendment, the pro-choice Jones may kill it in the Senate Rules Committee and nothing will get done.
We’re in uncharted waters here, so nobody really knows what will happen next. Usually lobbyists figure out whom they can trust after years of dealing with the various Statehouse players. But the two sides on this issue don’t have that history with each other. And the longer this process sits still, the more likely it is that the fringe elements will be able to undermine the compromise.