Midterm elections see increase in pro-choice members of Congress from Illinois

Chicago International Women's March
Protesters took to Michigan Avenue on Sunday to bring awareness to women's rights (Lauren Jensik/MEDILL)

By AnnMarie Hilton
Medill Reports

Illinois provides greater access to abortion than many other Midwestern states, and the midterm election saw two pro-life congressman ousted by proponents of safe, legal abortions.

Democrat Lauren Underwood won the seat for Illinois’ fourteenth district removing Republican Randy Hultgren, who sponsored multiple pieces of pro-life legislation. The race for the sixth district paralleled that of Democrat Sean Casten winning over Republican incumbent Peter Roskam. Both districts cover  swathes of the northern, northwestern and western suburbs.

“They call us [Illinois] the abortion oasis of the Midwest,” said Mary Kate Knorr, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, an educational program. “I find that laughable.”

Knorr also serves as the spokesperson for the advocacy organization, Illinois Right to Life Action. She said she felt deceived by GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who signed a bill during his term that expanded abortion coverage for women on Medicaid and state employee insurance.  Rauner conceded the election shortly after polls closed to Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who also supports pro-choice policies.

Believing that the government has a responsibility to protect the potential for life, Knorr regrets the relaxed  laws for abortion clinics in Illinois compared to surrounding states. She admits that the looser regulations here makes Illinois attractive to the abortion industry, but worries about the women visiting the clinics.

According to the University of Chicago guide for accessing abortion in Illinois, abortion clinics are subject to the same licensing requirements that apply to other health care providers under regulations such as the Illinois Medical Practice Act.

Emily Werth, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, said these licenses are required for clinics where more than over 50 percent of their services are abortion procedures. Conversely, a clinic whose primary purpose is to provide birth control or STD testing would not need the same licensing.

Parental notification laws in Illinois require a minor to notify an adult relative at least 48 hours prior to having an abortion. Minors can notify parents, grandparents or other adult relatives over the phone, in person or via written communication.

Knorr said these laws guard young girls from dealing with difficult situations on their own. She described abortions as serious medical procedures that can affect a woman’s mental health, but laments the lack of data on that in the United States.

“In other countries, that’s accessible and they can look at that information and see very clearly that there is a connection between an abortion and a significant decline in mental health,” Knorr said.

Citing a study by the American Psychological Association, the University of Chicago guide says that “abortion does not increase the likelihood of mental health disorders.” Though, they do acknowledge that women and other people involved with an abortion can experience a variety of emotions from sadness to relief.

Werth reiterated the fact that abortion can cause a range of emotions for women, but research has “debunked” the idea that it leads to mental health challenges.

“I think that it’s telling to some extent…the resources that you see for post-abortive women because those resources really for the most part exist on the side of the pro-life movement,” Knorr said.

The resources menu on the Planned Parenthood of Illinois website does offer “psycho social supportive services” for women who get abortions.  The group could not be reached for comment, but the website encourages women to speak with someone they trust about their decision.

AnnMarie Hilton – Medill Reports
AnnMarie Hilton – Medill Reports

Photo at top: Protesters took to Michigan Avenue on March 14, 2017,  to rally for women’s rights at the International Women’s Day March. (Lauren Jensik/MEDILL)