Governor J.B. Pritzker just signed into law SB25 – a mental health bill passed through the Illinois General Assembly in the last week of the legislative session. The governor is enjoying nationwide publicity as a result of this occasion, and held a lively press conference featuring smiling Democrats from across the state. Why the celebration over an arbitrary mental health bill, one might wonder? Because this bill was a mode for the most extreme abortion legislation yet to be passed in any state in the country.
Let’s review. (For a step-by-step guide on the legislative process, click here.)
February 13, 2019: The Reproductive Healthcare Act (RHA) was officially filed as a bill with the Illinois General Assembly.
February 13, 2019: The RHA had its First Reading.
February 26, 2019: The RHA was assigned to the Human Services Committee for review. The legislative process is such that the committee should then schedule a hearing on the bill, where legislators of the committee can hear testimonies in favor of and in opposition to the bill, as well as ask questions and debate.
March 3, 2019: The RHA was scheduled for a Human Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
March 3-6, 2019: A total of 14,074 witness slips were filed in opposition to the RHA. A witness slip is a formal statement added to the record by a state resident who declares support for or opposition to a bill. Only 615 slips were filed in support of the RHA. Our lobbyist, Ralph Rivera, said at the time that he hadn’t seen that many witness slips filed on a single bill in his entire 30 years in Springfield.
March 6, 2019: The Human Services Committee never called the RHA for a hearing. Not long after, it was assigned to the Informed Consent Subcommittee. We believe this was likely a direct response to the overwhelming number of witness slips.
March 20, 2019: More than 4,000 pro-life residents attended a rally at the Capitol to protest the RHA. Security closed the Capitol doors because the crowds brought the building to maximum capacity. Sponsors of the RHA later accused the crowds of violence and claimed that at least three legislators needed police escorts that day. We confirmed with the Illinois State Capitol police that those claims were false.
March 22, 2019: The RHA was scheduled for an Informed Consent Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
March 22-27, 2019: A total of 7,543 witness slips were filed in opposition to the RHA. Only 920 witness slips were filed in support of the RHA.
March 27, 2019: Human Services Committee Chair and pro-choice democrat Fran Hurley said on-record that she would not allow the bill to move forward with a hearing or a vote, unless otherwise instructed by leadership… aka Speaker Mike Madigan.
March 29, 2019: The RHA was re-referred to the Rules Committee. Traditionally, a return to the Rules Committee is an indication that a bill is dead. We took this as a good sign, but reminded our supporters that “a bill is never dead in the Illinois General Assembly.”
April 1, 2019: Planned Parenthood held a conference call for Illinois activists, on which they made two announcements: 1) sponsors of the RHA were going to try to have the bill reassigned to a new committee, and 2) there would be a rally held at the Capitol building to show support for the RHA on May 1, 2019.
April 24, 2019: Personal PAC, Illinois’ abortion political action committee run by Terry Cosgrove, sent an email that announced they’d be rescheduling the rally for Wednesday, May 15, 2019.
May 7, 2019: Georgia governor signed the state’s Heartbeat bill into law, prompting national headlines and outrage from pro-choice advocates.
May 15, 2019: A few hundred attended Planned Parenthood and Personal PAC’s rally at the Capitol in support of the RHA. Alabama’s state senate passed a bill to ban abortions without exceptions on this day, prompting national headlines.
May 20, 2019: Personal PAC hosts “Emergency Rally to Save Reproductive Rights” in Federal Plaza. According to the Facebook event, almost 2,000 attended.
May 22, 2019: Democrats held a caucus meeting to discuss the abortion bills. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, the RHA’s chief sponsor, said on-record after the meeting that Speaker Madigan had promised to find another avenue with which to pass the RHA.
May 24, 2019: Illinois Right to Life Action was informed that the text of the RHA would be copied and pasted from its original bill – HB2495 – and added as an amendment to an unrelated bill. This is a strategy is called a “gut and replace” and is often used by democrats in Springfield to pass unpopular legislation.
Sunday, May 26, 2019 (Memorial Day Weekend): The RHA amendment was added to SB25 – an unrelated bill on mental health – and witness slips opened one hour before the amendment was heard in the House Appropriations – Human Services Committee. The chairman of the Appropriations committee is Rep. Robyn Gabel. A total of 4,859 witness slips were filed in opposition to the RHA with only one hour’s notice. 1,961 slips were filed in support of the RHA. Legislators were not given an opportunity to ask questions or debate before it was voted through committee.
It’s important to emphasize that this vote occurred with only an hour’s notice on the Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend – when most Illinois residents would predictably be occupied with holiday events. The circumstances lead one to believe that legislators wanted to minimize public attention to the greatest extent possible.
May 28, 2019: The RHA had its Third Reading on the House Floor before a brief debate. SB25, now the RHA, was passed in a 64-50-4 vote.
May 29, 2019: The RHA was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Public Health Committee on Thursday, May 30, 2019.
May 29-30, 2019: A total of 9,023 witness slips were filed in opposition to the RHA. 3,256 slips were filed in support of the RHA.
May 30, 2019: The RHA was passed through the Senate Public Health Committee and brought to the floor for a vote. SB25 passed with a 34-20-3 vote.
June 12, 2019: Governor J.B. Pritzker signed SB25 into law at a private press conference held on the second floor of the Chicago Cultural Center.
Here at Illinois Right to Life Action, we predicted from the very beginning that the true fight over this bill would occur in the house – and we couldn’t have been more right. Legislators did everything in their power to dodge residents’ urgent requests against the RHA (this timeline doesn’t account for the tens of thousands of phone calls and emails that legislators were flooded with from February to May) and, ultimately, found a way around the process to push the bill through. Illinois residents should be furious.