Last week, the Illinois legislature reaffirmed abortion rights in the state, declaring women have a "fundamental right" to terminate a pregnancy, and a “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.”
It also repealed restrictions, enacted in 1975, that required spousal consent and waiting periods, and rolled back some restrictions on abortion facilities and late-term abortions.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign it.
The measure was Illinois Democrats' response to steep abortion restrictions adopted in at least six Republican-controlled states in an effort to get the contentious issue, legalized by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, back before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite Illinois' decision, Quad-City women must travel at least an hour to have the procedure.
That's been the case since the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinic in Bettendorf closed in December 2017. The closest clinics that offer abortion are the Emma Goldman Clinic for Women and Planned Parenthood North Central States, both about an hour away in Iowa City, and the Whole Woman's Health of Peoria, about 90 minutes away.
Across the river, Iowa takes a different approach
The Bettendorf clinic closed after the Republican-controlled Statehouse cut off family planning funds for organizations that provide abortions, and then-Governor Terry Branstad signed it into law. In the six months prior, Planned Parenthood had already closed clinics in Keokuk, Burlington and Sioux City.
That began Iowa's move to the forefront of the recent wave of abortion restrictions. In 2018, lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds enacted a law that required physicians to attempt to detect a fetal heartbeat in any woman seeking an abortion. If it was detected, which can happen at six weeks of pregnancy, the abortion could not be performed, except in cases involving rape, incest or fetal abnormalities incompatible with life.
At the time, The Guttmacher Institute, a national reproductive health care policy and research organization, described Iowa’s ban as “the most extreme anti-abortion measure adopted” in the country in 2018.
The law was appealed, and the Iowa Supreme Court struck it down earlier this year. In February, Reynolds declined to challenge it. In the last legislative session, a bill to criminalize nonconsensual termination of a pregnancy failed in the House.
Under current law, abortions remain illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and parental consent is required for women younger than 18.
David Stewart, president of the Quad-Cities NOW (National Organization for Women), said the Republicans' actions have translated to increased awareness on the ground.
"Last year, at Quad-Cities Pride, I sold 'Abortion legal" buttons. The year before, I sold two or three of those buttons. But then last year I sold over 50 buttons," he said, claiming the response was because Iowa made abortion a top issue.
Pro-choice group sees "abortion deserts," and "groundwars" ahead
Since Iowa's passage, Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama are among the states to pass laws restricting or banning access to abortion, some without exceptions for rape and incest.
"I would say that we're outraged, as most women and men are nationwide. These are dangerous bills," Stewart said. "They offer no exception, some offer minor exceptions for the health of the mother."
Stewart pointed to a Texas bill that could have forced a woman to carry a nonviable fetus to term and banned abortions on the basis of race, sex or disability. It also would have criminalized doctors who perform those abortions. That bill, Senate Bill 1033, missed the deadline to get onto the House's agenda for the legislative session.
Stewart thinks many of the laws will be ruled unconstitutional by the courts because they violate the abortion protections offered by Roe v. Wade.
"I think the goal is to try and overturn Roe v. Wade, which would be disastrous for women in the country," he said, adding that such a move wouldn't end abortion, but would return to practices of the 1960s and '70s, when only those with money and a car had access to a competent provider.
Stewart also says the new laws will lead to more "abortion deserts," as varying laws lead to places where the procedure is legal, and other places where it is banned or highly restricted.
"Illinois will become a mecca (for legal abortion), and so will other states," he said.
Pro-life advocates see a positive change
The Bettendorf clinic is now Women's Choice Center, a pro-life clinic that provides pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, educational materials and referrals free of charge. Officials there see a positive outcome to the changes.
"Politics and voting are always hard to predict. However, based on the increased number of women coming to our center for pregnancy services just in this past year, and seeing the statistics of those choosing life increasing, one would think legislators would be looking at these trends in their decision-making," said Linda Rubey, executive director of the Women's Choice Center in an email. "After Planned Parenthood’s closing in 2017, we’ve seen a 24% increase in new clients coming to our center seeking support and information about their pregnancies. "
A recent NPR/PBS Newshours/Marist College poll found 77% of Americans want to keep Roe v. Wade in place. But 61% favored some combination of limitations, like legal abortion in only the first three months of a pregnancy; only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman; or only to save the woman's life.
"Daily at Women’s Choice Center we offer free services, emotional support, information and education for all options for pregnant women who may feel helpless and alone," Rubey said. "After visiting our center, women know that whatever decision they make, they are welcome to come back. We serve more than 1,200 women and men in our community each year and are currently hiring to open a new women’s health and fertility center, Life and Family Medical Clinic. I suspect whatever the future political picture, dedicated medical professionals will be available to support good health in Iowa for all women and families."
The issue will "absolutely" come up in Iowa again, said Dr. Tim Millea, an orthopedic surgeon and president of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad-Cities. The guild is a physician-led association of pro-life health care professionals.
"It is a political football that needs to be debated," Millea said, adding there needs to be more logic and reason applied to the debate.
If Iowa bans abortion, Millea said, women will go to other states to seek an abortion.
"People that are bound and determined to have that... that would be their option."