Opponents line up against Trump pick Kavanaugh

Abortion rights should be safe in Illinois thanks to a law signed last year by Gov. Rauner

 Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his family watch President Trump sign his formal nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Twitter)

Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his family watch President Trump sign his formal nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Twitter)

By Ted Cox

Illinois is protected, at least in theory, from any attempt to overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent establishing a woman's right to an abortion, but that hasn't stopped opponents statewide from lining up against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Trump announced the nomination Monday night in a move that could shift the high court to the right for generations.

Many legal issues figure to be revisited if a fifth conservative joins the Supreme Court, replacing Associate Justice William Kennedy, who frequently acted as a "swing vote" on controversial issues. But the right to an abortion is foremost among them.

Trump has pledged to backers that he would work to overturn that right. But watchers of the high court aren't sure Kavanaugh is the choice to do it. He stood by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling in 2006 judicial confirmation hearings, calling it a "binding precedent" for the Supreme Court.

Of course, that can change should Kavanaugh actually join the high court, which is what has opponents lining up against him.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston posted remarks on Facebook stating that Roe v. Wade "wasn’t the beginning of abortions in America. It was the end of women dying from abortions in America."

She added, "Putting Brett Kavanaugh on the bench would threaten to bring women back dark days and back alleys. ... We must stop Kavanaugh."

Both of Illinois's U.S. senators, who will actually be called on to vote on the confirmation, Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, expressed immediate reservations about Kavanaugh. Durbin issued a statement calling Kavanaugh "a judge who consistently favors big business and undermines protections for consumers, workers, women, and the environment."

A woman's right to opt for an abortion if she so chooses should be protected in Illinois. Last year, a bill passed the General Assembly removing a so-called trigger provision in the state's abortion law. The original 1975 law stated that, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, Illinois law would revert to what it was before the ruling, but the new bill repealed that language.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois cheered the legislation, saying, "It confirms that abortion will remain legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court rolls back Roe v. Wade."

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed that bill into law last year in a move that cost him support among conservative Republicans. He barely survived a conservative challenge in the March primary in his bid for re-election as he heads to the general election in November.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois President Jennifer Welch cheered Rauner at the time, thanking him in a formal statement. Planned Parenthood said the law "ensures that no matter what happens, federally, abortion will remain legal in Illinois."

But abortion could be curtailed or outlawed in other states — or even in Illinois if the General Assembly swung in that direction. Dr. Amy Whitaker, vice president and executive director of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said recently that it's already serving patients from neighboring states. "One of the things that makes us special in Illinois or unique in Illinois is that we are in the Midwest, so we're surrounded by a number of states where accessing reproductive health care is a lot more difficult," Whitaker said. "In an almost any map you see of abortion care or restrictions on certain reproductive health aspects, we're completely surrounded in Illinois by states that have restrictions."

And Welch emphasized Tuesday that Illinoisans could still find themselves fighting for abortion rights. "Planned Parenthood of Illinois  believes that no one should be denied care based on where they live," she said in a statement. "Unfortunately Illinois is surrounded by states with unnecessary barriers and restrictions on reproductive health care."

Although Welch agreed last year's new state law "eliminated the immediate threat to abortion rights in Illinois," she added, "It doesn’t remove the long-term threat of rolling back rights if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned." She pointed out that Rauner's appointee to head the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Patti Bellock, "has been outspoken about her opposition to reproductive rights. Bellock’s record shows that she would likely dismantle the protections created by HB 40 and chip away rights for Illinois women."

Opponents found other reasons to question the Kavanaugh nomination as well. "Replacing Justice Kennedy’s swing vote with a far-right jurist like Judge Kavanaugh could change the rules in America," said Durbin.

Durbin also pointed out that Kavanaugh could end up ruling on the ongoing investigation into Trump and his presidential campaign and alleged ties to Russian efforts to swing the 2016 election in his favor. Durbin said that was "just as troubling" as Kavanaugh's positions on other issues, adding, "In light of the ongoing Russia investigation, Judge Kavanaugh has expressed staunch opposition to criminal investigations of sitting presidents."

After derailing President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland during the 2016 presidential campaign, U.S. Sen. Mitchell McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has said he'll fast-track the Kavanaugh nomination in an attempt to get confirmation done before the November midterm election.