The Illinois Republican Party is struggling — maybe not in the same way as in Arizona or Michigan, but in 2022, due to gerrymandering and due to the consequences of a far-right candidate for governor, the Democrats widened their supermajority control of the state legislature even further. Now there are various groups — grass roots groups, statewide party groups, and local township Republican party groups, trying to regroup, to re-brand, and somehow get the pro- and anti-Trump factions to work together, while seeking to persuade independents that their interests really align with the Republican Party on a local level regardless of who end up being the parties’ 2024 presidential nominees.
And that’s all well and good, but as far as I can tell, “establishment” Republicans are trying to weasel their way out of taking a position on abortion, as a party. It’s become a third rail. Even locally, my state house Republican candidate, in the local debate, got very squirrely about the issue. So what I want to do in this little blog post is put on my candidate’s hat, and ask myself, if I were a candidate called on to explain my position, what would I say?
To start with, here’s a brief summary of abortion law in Illinois: up until viability, there are no restrictions at all, and after that, there is a nominal requirement that the mother’s health be at risk, but to my understanding there are no documentation requirements; this restriction merely exists on paper. In addition, Medicaid and commercial insurance are required by state law to cover abortion and must also provide abortion pills without any out-of-pocket cost. After Roe v. Wade was overturned and the state began to see an increasing number of abortions from out-of-state women, Gov. Pritzker increased the Medicaid reimbursement rates significantly. Most recently, the legislature passed a bill which would ban “deceptive practices” by crisis pregnancy centers — a bill which Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul claimed was necessary because, supposedly, those centers “trick” women into thinking they provide abortions; in reality, the text of the bill is so expansive that the state could deem a crisis pregnancy center to be in violation if they fail in any way to conform to the “party line” that abortion is a good thing. Oh, and let’s not forget that Illinois law defines “viability” in such a way as to extend the period of “pre-viability” longer than you’d expect: “‘Fetal viability’ means that, in the professional judgment of the attending health care professional, based on the particular facts of the case, there is a significant likelihood of a fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.” In other words, depending on the definition of “extraordinary,” even a moderately-premature gestational age could be deemed “non-viable.” All of this adds up to a very strong abortion advocacy by the state government, yet the fact that there is still on paper a prohibition of post-viability abortions provides a veneer of deniability which Democrats are happy to use (as I’m told was the case in a local town hall sponsored by my own state senator and representative).
So one presumes that the majority of Illinoisans would see this as extreme, would acknowledge that it is wrong, inhumane, to kill very developed babies-in-the-womb, even if those same folks are likely to believe earlier abortion is just fine. Yet so far as I can tell, there are likewise large numbers of people who consider this an acceptable trade-off; that is, if they believe the options are black-and-white, and you must either support the expansive abortion laws as they currently exist or you must support a total ban, then some number of deaths of unborn babies, even if they acknowledge they are fully-human, are acceptable to ensure women have access to early abortion. (Incidentally, the line that’s repeated that “no woman ever gets a later abortion unless there is a dire need” is just not true, though I’ve already gotten side tracked enough to not now dig up data on that.)
Which means I’ve finally written out the context for my imaginary speech and it goes something like this:
First of all, I am pro-life. I believe that unborn lives are human lives and have a right to live just as everyone else does. I believe that it is part of being human that there are limits to the idea of “bodily autonomy,” that we all have obligations and cannot harm others to escape those obligations.
At the same time, I am not convinced that the hardline approach taken by some states in their abortion bans is wise or prudent. In some cases, the wording of the legislation has been unclear; to my understanding, the intent of the legislature has been to provide accommodation for certain “hard cases” and it’s not clear to me whether the reporting on these states is accurate but there are reasonable concerns. Beyond that, I worry about a situation of “retaliatory lawmaking” — in Illinois, of course, the first aggressively pro-abortion laws appeared in 2018 and 2019, but in the past year we have seen actions to make abortion even more widely accessible in response to other states’ restrictions. And beyond that, in Michigan the response to the existing abortion restriction wasn’t a compromise but an all-out campaign by pro-abortion activists, with a large national funding base, to enshrine abortion in the state constitution, with the same toothless post-viability protection (that is, protection of “mental health” is explicitly a valid reason for an abortion at any gestational age) as in Illinois. Could this have been avoided with a compromise bill? I don’t know, but it worries me that other states could see the same outcome — that by making a drastic change without supermajority support, those states risk losing the protections that they have enacted and a long-term outcome that’s worse.
It’s also clear to me that states which enact abortion restrictions simply must pair this with substantial increases in social spending for families. That’s not easy, because there is a point at which “generous social spending” becomes “creating welfare queens,” creating circumstances in which good intentions actually cause harm — welfare cliffs which mean people are better off not working, or pay high marginal ‘tax’ rates for losing a lot of benefit for only a little pay raise, or marriage penalties in how welfare benefits are calculated that deter people from marrying, for example. And the national debt is a huge roadblock and states’ needs to balance their budgets are another one, and I don’t really have a lot of answers here because, again, this is tough to figure out, but it’s still important.
And that’s a really awful imaginary speech, but after all, it’s only hypothetical. To boil it down to bullet points, a prolife candidate in a pro-abortion state must:
- Acknowledge her pro-life-ness (because otherwise there’s no credibility),
- Make clear that compromise legislation with a supermajority support is key, and
- Support legislation that works to prevent women from suffering financial hardship due to pregnancy and motherhood.
Would this be enough to win votes? I don’t know. Readers, what do you think?
Image: By Carin Araujo, http://www.prtc.net/~carin (Stock.xchng #197853) [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons