May 29, 2024

Dan Petrella, Jeremy Gorner Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday urged President Joe Biden to boost federal funding to Illinois and other states where abortion remains legal and to support doctors across the country who provide telehealth services as more states begin restricting access to reproductive health services.

The requests came during a White House call between Biden and Democratic governors one week after the conservative majority of the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade that protected access to abortion services for nearly half a century.

In Illinois, lawmakers are preparing to return to Springfield, possibly as soon as next week, for a special legislative session at strengthening the state’s already formidable protections for abortion access.

Pritzker, who has made abortion a central issue of his reelection bid against ultraconservative Republican state Mon. Darren Bailey of Xenia, also called for a federal reproductive health care “strike force” to review federal rules with an eye toward improving access.

Pritzker did not speak during the portion of the call that was carried on a public livestream, but the governor’s office provided a summary of his remarks.

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In a statement after the call, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the governor “is gratified that President Biden embraced his suggestions, particularly moving forward with a concrete strike force that includes Democratic governors and federal leaders to protect access to safe, legal abortion and reproductive care .”

In his remarks to Pritzker and eight other Democratic governors, Biden said his administration, through the Justice Department and the Food and Drug Administration, will take steps to ensure that people are able to travel across state lines to receive services and will be able to receive abortion medications by mail.

But he also acknowledged limits on his ability to protect access to abortion services given the current composition of Congress, where Democrats hold a slim majority in the House and rely on Vice President Kamala Harris as the deciding vote in an evenly divided Senate.

Biden has called for ending the Senate filibuster to approve a federal law enshrining the protections afforded by Roe, but that move lacks enough support to be carried out. Like Pritzker, he connected the future of abortion access to the outcome of the November election.

“The choice is clear: Either elect federal senators and representatives who will codify Roe, or Republicans who will elect the House and Senate will try to ban abortions nationwide. Nationwide,” Biden said. “This is going to go one way or the other after November.”

Illinois uses state money to pay for abortions for Medicaid patients under a law signed by Pritzker’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, because federal law prohibits federal funds from being used.

Pritzker, in the call with Biden, asked for additional federal funding for clinic upkeep, medical transportation and other expenses that are allowed under federal law. The governor noted that Illinois may soon be the main place to access abortion services for residents in a wide swath of the Midwest and South.

He joined other governors, including New York’s Kathy Hochul, who also is on the ballot this year, in calling for federal facilities on federal land, such as Veterans Affairs hospitals or military bases, to be made available for abortion providers in states where the procedure is banned.

Hochul called the New York legislature into session Thursday, and lawmakers were expected to take the first step toward amending the state’s constitution to protect abortion rights, a process that couldn’t be completed until the 2024 election.

It’s too late for Illinois lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment before voters this fall, so the Democratic-controlled legislature is expected to take more immediate steps when it reconvenes in Springfield this month.

Near the top of the list is expanding the ranks of medical professionals who are able to perform abortions in Illinois.

Pritzker’s recent trip to New Hampshire added fuel to speculation about a potential presidential bid. The governor, who called for the special session, has positioned himself as a national leader on abortion rights.

In 2019, he signed a measure that enshrined into law abortions as a “fundamental right” for women. The governor last year signed into law a measure that repealed a requirement for abortion providers to notify the parents of minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

The measures passed along party lines and Democrats have made clear they will try to leverage the abortion issue going into the November election. Earlier this week, one of the top-ranking House Republicans, Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville, argued that Pritzker and the Democratic legislative majority should move on.

“We’ve got a really broken state government and the fact that this is all they want to focus on shows me this is all they’re going to talk about going into November,” said Bourne, who was the lieutenant governor candidate in Richard Irvin’s unsuccessful bid for governor.

Bailey has said he’d “work to remove taxpayer-funded abortion and restore parental notification” and work with the legislature, civic groups, and nonprofits to support women during and after their pregnancy” and make adoption an easy option. Bailey has said he’s against abortion except in conditions where the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

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