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Illinois Abortion Threatened as GOP Takes Control of State Supreme Court in November

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CHICAGO — Illinois lawmakers took steps to make abortion rights untouchable before Roe v. Wade was quashed, but an upcoming judicial election could undermine those safeguards.

Two Illinois Supreme Court seats up for grabs in November second and third arrondissementsboth of which surround Chicago.

Right now, Democrats have a slim 4-3 majority in the court. But if the Republican judicial candidates win in the two suburban districts that lean only Democratic, the GOP will take control of the court for the first time in decades.

And that could spell trouble for the Midwestern legions now flocking to Illinois for abortions from neighboring states where the procedure has been banned, lawyers say.

Judicial elections often do not attract the same national attention as other political races in which turnout is often much higher, but observers say the Illinois Supreme Court races could foreshadow similar battles in other states over reproductive rights, with far-reaching consequences.

“If we lose this election, there is absolutely no guarantee that abortion will be legal after 2023,” said Terry Cosgrove, president and CEO of Personal PAC, an abortion rights advocacy group.

Anti-abortion efforts remain active

Five years ago, Illinois lawmakers passed it HB 40, a legal security lock that was placed on a trigger law passed in 1975 when the state was not yet a democratic stronghold — designed to criminalize abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overthrows Roe.

Peter Breen of the Conservative Legal Organization Thomas More Society indicted to overthrow HB 40 after Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, signed it in 2017but the Illinois Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.

“At this time, there is no considered or actual challenge to Illinois abortion laws from the pro-life side,” Breen said.

Instead, Breen said, “we’re doubling down on our traditional efforts to protect First Amendment rights.”

“We’ll have more abortion clinics, so we’ll have more ‘sidewalk counseling’ and we’ll have more problems with states coming after pro-life pregnancy centers,” he said.

Sidewalk counseling refers to having abortion opponents standing outside clinics and trying to persuade women to go inside. The practice has been compared to harassment and has at times turned violent.

Still, anti-abortion groups in Illinois are eager to pick judges they find sympathetic.

Mark Curran is the former Lake County Sheriff.
Mark Curran is the former Lake County Sheriff. Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Judge Michael Burke, a Republican representing the second district of the state Supreme Court, who is serving a 10-year term in the third district after the district maps were redrawn, as well as former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, who declared victory Friday about three other GOP candidates competing for the judge in the second arrondissement, were “qualified” by Illinois Right to Life Action in its latest voter guide. None of their Democratic rivals made it to the group.

Hundreds of abortion opponents are expect to meet on Saturday in downtown Chicago to celebrate Roe’s overthrow and also send a message to the Illinois Supreme Court, said Kevin Grillot, director of March for Life Chicago.

“One of the first steps we’re taking is to educate the public about the importance of who sits on each state’s Supreme Court,” Grillot said. “One of the things the Supreme Court ruling did was return the decision on the protection of unborn lives to the states. So now our votes matter.”

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the Illinois ACLU, agreed that “anti-abortion forces don’t rest.”

It is true that the Illinois Supreme Court has indeed rejected efforts by anti-abortion advocates in Illinois to seek measures passed by a majority of both houses and signed by our state’s duly elected governor. said Yohnka.

“A change in the state Supreme Court staff could change the outcome of such challenges — as we’ve seen recently in the United States Supreme Court,” he said.

Brigid Leahy, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, said Roe’s overthrow was a wake-up call that states can no longer rely on the Supreme Court — and half a century of legal precedent — to protect reproductive rights. .

So that makes this year’s Illinois judicial election a “priority” for abortion rights advocates.

“It’s critical that the body maintains a majority that understands that we have basic reproductive rights in Illinois, and Planned Parenthood is going to fight like hell to make sure those rights are protected,” Leahy said.

Joe Power, a veteran Illinois attorney, agreed, saying the Trial Lawyers Association will likely increase its funding this fall in the race to oppose the election of Republican judicial candidates in these two counties.

“You could take the map of the Midwest and all the pro-life states around Illinois and if these two get elected – they’re both pro-life – we might not have anything in the entire Midwest that respects a woman’s right to choose ‘ said Power.

Meghan Leonard, an associate professor of politics and administration at Illinois State University and an expert on her state’s Supreme Court, said, “Anyone who wants to change the law faces the toughest battle in all states.”

But it can be done if someone files a lawsuit and the state Supreme Court decides to hear the case, Leonard said.

“I don’t think anything will happen anytime soon, and it would depend on the makeup of the court at the time,” Leonard said.

Two districts could wave the court

The second district now consists of five counties north and west of Chicago, and the third consists of seven counties west and south of Chicago.

These Districts Were Trending Republican Until They Were recently redrawn for the first time since 1964 and shrunk to exclude more rural parts of the state, said Kent Redfield, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield.

These are now “swing districts that lean democratically,” Redfield said.

Burke was named a second-district judge last year to retire Judge Robert Thomas, who used to be a kicker for the Chicago Bears

A respected lawyerBurke is now running in the third district because the new map has moved DuPage County, where he lives, out of the second district. He will face Democrat Judge Mary O’Brien in November.

When asked about HB 40, Burke told NBC News via email that he chooses not to “answer questions that could be interpreted as establishing a particular position on issues that may come to court.”

“It falls within the county of the Illinois General Assembly to pass the laws governing this state,” he added. “Whatever personal views I have on issues, don’t give me the power to legislate from the bench.”

Burke’s departure left his second district seat open, and Curran looks set to hold onto a small lead in the polls in a crowded GOP field.

Curran, whose apparent victory is expected to close on Tuesday, will take on the Democratic nominee, State Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Rocheford

Asked about his position on HB 40, Curran replied in an email: “We can’t say how we would decide on anything, especially not pending legislation that may go to court.”

But Curran made no secret of opposing abortion during his failed 2020 bid to oust Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat. He was supported by former President Donald Trump, though he disagrees with him on issues like immigration.

Curran was too harshly criticized to say, just days after Rep. Georgia Democrat John Lewis that the civil rights icon “was in bed with Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.”

While Curran didn’t directly address the issue of abortion in a recent interview with the Lake County News-Sun, he seemed to be taking the Trumpist line on other cultural war issues.

‘The court must maintain liberty and liberty’ Curran told the News-Sun. “Such a legal style works for everyone. These are the bookends of a decision and the background to the Constitution. A man claiming to be a woman and playing sports is not a law of nature.”

Activists remain vigilant

That kind of talk alarms community activists like Anna Zolkowski Sobor, who works on the northwest side of Chicago and has spoken with her suburban friends about the need to vote in the near future. elections to the Supreme Court of the State

“I think in Illinois we have a false sense of security that reproductive rights are safe because we’re a deep blue state with a Democratic governor and a majority of the Democratic legislature,” Sobor said. “They are not.”

Sobor said Burke and Curran’s election to the state’s highest court would be the culmination of a long-standing effort by anti-abortion forces to populate local library and school boards and courts with people “whose marginal beliefs are not shared by most.” people in Illinois.”

Currently, Planned Parenthood operates 18 health centers in the state that have become a haven for abortion access in the Midwest.

Illinois show health data that abortions for state residents fell more than 6%, from 38,622 in 2010 to 36,174 in 2020. But the figure for out-of-state residents who came to Illinois for abortions nearly tripled over the same period, from 3,050 to 9,686.

Democratic Chief Executive JB Pritzker has already made it clear that he is running for reelection on the pledge to protect abortion rights in Illinois.

“Here in Illinois, we are an island surrounded by anti-choice laws and anti-choice states, legislators and governors,” Pritzker said in a recent interview with NBC News. “We’re going to make it possible in the state, when they come to Illinois, that they can get a procedure.”

Natasha Korecki reported from Chicago, and Erik Ortiz and Corky Siemaszko reported from New York.

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