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Gov. J.B. Pritzker is backing abortion rights ballot measures across nation, but little on the horizon in Illinois

Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Political News

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expending political and financial capital around the country — from Ohio to Nevada — on ballot measures to enshrine abortion protections in state constitutions. But similar efforts in Illinois remain in limbo.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court nearly two years ago struck down the federal right to abortion, reproductive health care has proved a potent political issue for Democrats, credited with helping prevent a predicted “red wave” nationally in 2022 and, in Illinois, cemented the party’s dominance in the statehouse.

Abortion rights also has become a platform issue for Pritzker. The second-term governor and billionaire Hyatt Hotels heir has increasingly looked to raise his national profile as he eyes a potential future White House run — particularly through the dark money group he launched last fall, Think Big America.

Just days after delivering a State of the State address in Springfield last week during which he made only passing references to abortion, Pritzker flew to Nevada over the weekend to help kick off a petition push to get a reproductive rights amendment referendum on the November ballot in a state that could prove key to President Joe Biden’s reelection effort.

“I know some of you are wondering why the governor of Illinois is here today,” a raspy-voiced Pritzker told a crowd of about 100 people Saturday at a community college outside Las Vegas. “I came here today because what you’re doing is so important, not just for the future of Nevada but the future of the entire nation.

“Together, you — we — are protecting access to health care and preventing MAGA extremists from passing an abortion ban,” said Pritzker, a key Biden surrogate, referring to Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and reports that Trump likes the idea of a 16-week national abortion ban with some exceptions.

 

Speaking over shouts of “murderer” from anti-abortion protesters who had disrupted the event, Pritzker recounted for the Nevada crowd a story well-known in Illinois about how his mother’s activism for abortion rights in the 1970s inspired his lifelong dedication to the issue. It propelled him to the governor’s office and, ultimately, led to the creation of a national political organization designed to boost the cause, he said.

Back home, though, a state constitutional amendment on abortion rights doesn’t appear to be on this election year’s agenda for the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature — even though Pritzker last year declared in his second inaugural address that “the right to privacy and bodily autonomy demand that we establish a constitutional protection for reproductive rights in Illinois.”

Supporters point to a variety of reasons for the slower pace here, including the strength of the state’s existing law, the pro-abortion rights supermajorities in the General Assembly and on the Illinois Supreme Court, the need to channel resources to states where access is under greater threat, and the ongoing discussions about whether to expand the constitutional question to include other forms of health care, such as gender-affirming treatments.

“It’s more important that we do it correctly than that we do it quickly,” Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said in January, emphasizing the need “to be very sure … we are protecting the broad collection of rights that need to be protected.”

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