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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 12:01 am

Texas-like abortion bills introduced here

Bills mimic law that prompted 11-hour filibuster



Two bills to impose tougher regulations on abortions were introduced last week in the Illinois General Assembly, prompting an outcry from abortion rights groups.

Proponents say the bills are about protecting women, but opponents say the proposals are meant to make it harder for abortion clinics to operate. The bills are very similar to a Texas law passed last year that drew national attention to the ongoing fight over abortion.

Rep. Thomas Morrison, a Republican from Palatine, introduced House bills 5462 and 5463 on Feb. 19. Together, the bills would subject facilities that perform 50 or more abortions per year to more stringent regulations like those that apply to hospitals, require the state to produce anti-abortion materials, and require physicians to offer pregnant women an ultrasound image of their fetus before performing an abortion, among other provisions. The bills would also allow physicians who don’t comply to be sued for malpractice or charged with a crime.

“This is a women’s safety issue,” said Morrison. “This is about creating an environment where the safety of patients and the staff is paramount.”

Morrison points to the case of Tonya Reaves, a Chicago woman who died after an abortion in July 2012, and the trial of Kermit Gosnell, a former abortion doctor in Pennsylvania who was found guilty on three counts of murder in May 2013. Investigators who raided Gosnell’s abortion practice found unsanitary conditions, illegal abortion methods and powerful prescription drugs used without proper supervision.

“It’s an industry that is regulated, but obviously, the enforcement was lax,” Morrison said. “The Kermit Gosnell trial really forced a lot of departments of public health around the nation to take another look at the operations of standalone clinics.”

But Lorie Chaiten, director of the reproductive rights project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois, says Morrison’s bills are aimed at restricting access to abortion. Although the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade struck down state bans on abortion, the Illinois bills would sidestep the federal case law by imposing burdensome regulations on abortion providers.

Chaiten says Illinois courts have already ruled some aspects of Morrison’s bills unconstitutional, and the state currently operates under court orders that modify what state law says. 

“The bottom line is the Illinois Department of Public Health regulates abortion very aggressively already,” Chaiten said. “There is no problem that needs to be answered. These bills don’t do anything to make medical care safer. They’re aimed at making abortion services so expensive and difficult that no one can do it.”

Chaiten offers a scathing critique of the bills, saying they shame women and even contain medically inaccurate information. She also points to provisions in the bill that would require doctors who provide abortions to have the ability to admit patients at a nearby hospital. She says that’s unnecessary because hospitals already have to admit patients facing serious health issues. Additionally, she says that provision would allow religious-based hospitals to deny abortion doctors the ability to provide services by denying the doctors admitting privileges.    

The Texas legislature debated similar bills in June 2013, prompting an 11-hour filibuster by Texas representative Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Forth Worth who is now running for governor. The filibuster gained nationwide attention and delayed the passage of the bills, but they were ultimately passed during the next legislative session.

The pro-choice nonprofit group NARAL Texas says a third of that state’s abortion clinics have closed since the Texas law took effect. If a remaining portion of the law, which is under litigation, takes effect, Texas will be down to only six clinics, NARAL predicts.

Chaiten and Morrison seem to agree that the issue of potential trauma factors heavily into the abortion debate. For example, Chaiten says women who must abort for health reasons should not have to look at ultrasound images of their fetus.

“This will traumatize patients, and doesn’t do anything to improve care,” she said.

But Morrison says the the bills are about letting women know their options and understand that choosing to abort may produce trauma or health issues.

“Let women know that this is what you might feel,” he said. “Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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