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Chicago will be ‘oasis’ for abortion if Roe is overturned, mayor says

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks about funding reproductive health resources during a news conference May 9. (Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times/AP)
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Shortly after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) announced that the city would provide an additional $500,000 to increase access to abortion care, the mayor vowed Monday that Chicago would become an “oasis” for women seeking an abortion if Roe v. Wade is struck down by the Supreme Court.

The funding, which comes from the Chicago Department of Public Health, is expected to provide lodging, transportation, food and other means of support for women and other individuals in neighboring states seeking abortion — many of whom are poor or people of color. Lightfoot said the move was necessary one week after a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that would eliminate the constitutional right to abortion sent shock waves across the country.

“We are ready to fight,” Lightfoot told reporters about the “Justice for All Pledge.” “We are ready to organize. We are ready to do whatever it takes. We will not stand idly by and watch our rights disappear like smoke.”

If Roe is overturned and even more states enforce “trigger” laws severely weakening abortion access or banning it, then it would be on Chicago to “be a safe haven for all who are unjustly denied the resources and opportunities they deserve,” Lightfoot said.

“We’re expecting, frankly, an explosion of new cases from women in Wisconsin, Missouri, potentially Michigan, Indiana,” the mayor said to MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson, referring to states that either have trigger laws or could implement them. “I think the list is long, and Chicago is going to be an oasis in the Midwest, and we have got to be ready.”

The mayor said that the leaked draft opinion amounted to a “call to arms” against the Supreme Court and that she was concerned about what an opinion to overturn Roe could also mean for same-sex marriage.

Lightfoot has joined Democrats nationwide in setting off alarm bells after Politico first published Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe. After Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told USA Today over the weekend that it was “possible” a Republican-controlled Congress could try to legislate on abortion, Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday that it would be “open season” on reproductive health care if Roe is overturned.

A leaked draft opinion on May 2 shows that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn federal abortion protections. Here's what would happen. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Thirteen states have trigger laws in place that would ban most abortions. About 10 other states have laws that severely weaken federal abortion protections.

What are ‘trigger’ laws, and which states have them?

Sixteen states and D.C. have laws that protect the right to an abortion, either before a fetus’s viability or throughout a pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center based in New York and Washington that supports abortion rights.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) established the right to reproductive health care, including abortion, into law in 2019. The state averaged more than 41,600 abortions a year between 2011 and 2020, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

More than 46,200 abortions were performed in Illinois in 2020, the most recent year of available data. Nearly 88 percent of the abortions in the state in 2020 were among unmarried women, while about 20 percent of those who received the procedure in Illinois came from out of state, data shows.

Pritzker said in a statement last week that while the leaked draft opinion carried “terrifying implications,” abortion would remain “safe and legal” in Illinois.

“Let me be clear — no matter what atrocity of an opinion the Supreme Court officially rolls out this summer in regards to Roe versus Wade — abortion will always be safe and legal here in Illinois,” Pritzker said. “Illinois is and will remain a beacon of hope in an increasingly dark world. I will fight like hell — not just for the women who call Illinois home, but every person in every corner of this country who deserves to live a life of their own design.”

Lightfoot claimed to MSNBC that the city has been flooded with calls from women who believe Roe has already been overturned. She noted that the $500,000 commitment is only an initial investment — a “down payment to help our front-line providers get over this immediate hurdle” — and promised that more funds would be put toward abortion care.

Among those at the news conference announcing the “Justice for All Pledge” was Jennifer Welch, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. Welch echoed the mayor’s call to make the city, and state as a whole, a safe haven for people seeking an abortion. She told reporters that she expects between two and five times more women will come to Illinois for abortions if Roe is struck down, according to WBBM.

“When every state that borders Illinois bans or so severely restricts abortion as to make it impossible, millions of people will find themselves in a vast abortion desert,” Welch said, “and that’s where Illinois comes in as the oasis for care.”

While the announcement was welcomed by abortion rights advocates, antiabortion groups and conservatives were unsurprisingly critical of Lightfoot’s pledge to make Chicago an “oasis” for abortion care.

“We don’t want Illinois and Chicago to be an abortion destination, which is anything but a ‘safe haven’ for women and children,” Pro-Life Action League, a Chicago-based antiabortion organization, said in a statement, according to WLS-TV.

The leaked draft opinion has also set off a wave of conjecture that the justices could roll back the right to same-sex marriage. Legal experts are divided on whether the right to same-sex marriage is in danger. Some say the draft opinion in the abortion case provides a road map for the court to hold that same-sex marriage is not a fundamental right, while others argue that there is no public appetite for putting that issue before the court.

Draft abortion opinion spurs speculation about future of same-sex marriage

But Lightfoot argued that the leaked draft opinion potentially opened the door for other issues.

“If you look at that draft opinion and you look at the briefs in support of the appellants, they’re going after every right that has been recognized that arises from a right of privacy,” she said. “Whether it’s a right to contraception, the right for same-sex marriage, interracial marriage.”

Lightfoot doubled down on the speculation surrounding same-sex marriage, warning the LGBTQ community Monday night that “the Supreme Court is coming for us next.”

“This moment has to be a call to arms,” tweeted Lightfoot, the city’s first openly gay mayor. “We will not surrender our rights without a fight — a fight to victory!”

Though the research arm of the Republican National Committee and conservatives on social media slammed Lightfoot for what they claimed was a call for “violence,” Lightfoot maintained that the fight over abortion care comes at a significant time for the country.

“We are soldiers,” she said. “We are soldiers prepared to fight.”

Marisa Iati contributed to this report.

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