Illinois Steps Up as Other States Decimate Abortion Rights

Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher Institute, Lizamarie Mohammed, Guttmacher Institute and Olivia Cappello, Guttmacher Institute

Updated on June 12, 2019:

On June 12, Illinois’ Reproductive Health Act was signed into law. The protections in the law took effect immediately. State regulations to guide the implementation of a new provision allowing advanced practice clinicians to provide abortions are forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Vermont’s Freedom of Choice Act was enacted on June 10. Similar to the law in Illinois, Vermont’s measure declares reproductive choice—including contraception, sterilization, abortion and carrying a pregnancy—a fundamental right.

A third state, Maine, also took action on June 10, with the governor signing a law permitting advanced practice nurses and physician assistants to provide abortions, thereby expanding the pool of medical professionals who are eligible to provide such care.


First published June 5, 2019:

Illinois is about to become the second state in 2019 to protect abortion rights and ensure that abortion remains legal in the state even if Roe v. Wade is undermined or overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. This move is all the more significant at a time when other states, including some that neighbor Illinois, have undertaken an all-out assault on abortion rights and access.

The soon-to-be-signed bill declares reproductive health care—including abortion, contraception, sterilization, and pregnancy and maternity care—a fundamental right in Illinois. The bill prohibits the state as well as local jurisdictions from interfering with individuals’ reproductive health decisions, including those of individuals in state custody. It is a clear statement of respect for the reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy of all Illinois residents.

Crucial Protections

The Illinois Reproductive Health Act protects abortion access in several other key ways. The bill:

  • requires all public and private health insurance plans to cover abortion alongside other pregnancy-related services, to lower financial barriers to care;
  • allows advanced practice nurses and physician assistants to provide abortions, to expand the pool of available providers;
  • updates clinic regulations, which had been blocked in court and were not being enforced, to ensure abortion providers are not targeted with unnecessary and intentionally burdensome regulations;
  • repeals outdated, unenforced laws that criminalize abortion, to ensure that no one who receives or provides abortion services is punished; and
  • revises the state’s postviability abortion law so that it allows abortions later in pregnancy when medically necessary without a second physician’s approval, to ensure that a patient’s health needs guide medical decisions.

The modernization of Illinois’ abortion laws is in line with changes in medical practice and the well-established safety record of abortion. These changes are supported by extensive clinical evidence, as demonstrated in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s landmark 2018 report on abortion safety and quality.

Answering the Call

The Illinois bill is a direct rebuttal to a sustained and coordinated campaign in numerous states to enact blatantly unconstitutional abortion bans, all with the goal of allowing a conservative U.S. Supreme Court to undermine or overturn Roe v. Wade.

Since January 1, 2019, 53 abortion restrictions have been enacted in 17 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. These laws only serve to further restrict access to care, which had already been out of reach for many people.

At a time when abortion rights are severely threatened, proactive laws may ensure that this essential service remains available and accessible. Several other states have likewise taken action to shore up abortion rights and access:

  • New York enacted sweeping protections in January with its own Reproductive Health Act, which repealed the state’s pre-Roe laws and permitted abortion until fetal viability, and after viability when the patient’s life or health is endangered.
  • Nevada took a step forward by repealing the state’s criminal abortion law and improving the state’s abortion counseling requirements.
  • Vermont’s legislature passed a measure—awaiting the governor’s signature—that would affirm the right to reproductive choice and health care, including abortion, contraception and pregnancy-related services.

Including these states, 25 legislatures have introduced bills to affirm and protect reproductive rights during their 2019 sessions.

It’s becoming ever more clear that 2019 is a crucial year for abortion rights in the United States. With Roe under direct threat, states must step up and do all they can to shore up abortion rights and access—and Illinois, New York and others are answering the call. More states need to follow their lead.


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