Sen. Sims joins call to preserve reproductive rights

Planned Parenthood sees shift from abortion restrictions to outright bans with new ‘heartbeat bills’

State Sen. Elgie Sims says he’s working to preserve reproductive rights in Illinois. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State Sen. Elgie Sims says he’s working to preserve reproductive rights in Illinois. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

An Illinois state senator joined leading advocates for reproductive rights Wednesday in a media conference call on efforts to combat outright bans on abortion being adopted state by state, and perhaps soon at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Roe is seriously under attack,” said Sen. Elgie Sims, referring to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision making abortion legal, “and we have to continue to fight to provide access to safe, legal reproductive health care for everyone.”

Sims, a Chicago Democrat, is lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1594, which would repeal the state’s Parental Notice of Abortion Act, and co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1942, which would expand reproductive rights by repealing the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, and the Abortion Performance Refusal Act.

Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the situation had grown “more dire” with last year’s appointment of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservatives, she said, have been emboldened to increasingly restrict and even try to ban abortions nationwide.

“Politicians are directly interfering with medical practice and endangering women’s lives,” she said.

Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said she’d detected “a real shift in the type and sort of these restrictions.” Already this year, she said, Kentucky and Mississippi have joined four other states in passing what’s been labeled “heartbeat bills” cutting off abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at six or seven weeks. Nash pointed out that’s also before many women even know they’re pregnant.

“Abortion opponents aren’t about restrictions anymore,” Nash said. “All of these efforts are about control and power. … Their real goal is to ban all abortion.”

“These bans are flat-out unconstitutional,” said Helene Krasnoff, of Planned Parenthood. She said the attempts to enact six-week bans on abortion had all been struck down in the courts — so far. But she joined Nash in warning about the “increasingly conservative” U.S. Supreme Court, which has shifted right with the latest two appointments by President Trump.

“This seems to be a renewed push this year in the wake of Cavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court,” Krasnoff said.

Sims acknowledged the debate can have a “visceral response” on both sides, but he called for it to be part of a democratic process. “There is nothing wrong with us having discussions that are heated,” he said, but he called for them to lead to “good, sound policy.”

Sims said that, for him, it comes down to maintaining consistent legal rights allowing access to health care without government intervention. “I’m a firm believer that you cannot pick and choose the fundamental rights that you allow people to exercise,” he said. “Women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies.”

Sims explained that his bill on parental notification is meant to maintain legal consistency. He pointed out that a pregnant teen can consult a doctor on her own — unless it’s for an abortion. He said there was no legal justification to draw that distinction.

“You cannot have justice without equity,” Sims said.

Wen said the conservative movement across the country meant, “We must be on the offensive too,” adding, “Planned Parenthood will not stand by and watch our rights and freedoms be taken away.”