Some members of the Illinois General Assembly once again are playing politics with women’s health -- and threatening our access to contraception and abortion! For the second year in a row, anti-contraception/anti-abortion legislators sent restrictive reproductive health bills to the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee. I grew up in North Dakota – an agricultural state if there ever was one – and, based on what I saw in the House Ag Committee this past Tuesday, it is time to muck out the barn by publicizing the inappropriateness of sending women’s health bills to a Committee that simultaneously insisted on its expertise in women’s health issues and then failed to ask a single question of the doctor who appeared to oppose two bills that pose a serious threat to women’s health.

One bill before the Illinois Agriculture Committee, which bears the Orwellian name of the “Ultrasound Opportunity Bill” (HB 4085), would force women seeking abortions to have and view an “active ultrasound,” which for many women means a vaginal–probe ultrasound, or make a written statement of their refusal to do so. Chicago physician Allison Cowett gave riveting testimony about the harm HB 4085 inflicts on women when ultrasound is used as weapon in the war against abortion and contraception rather than as medical test for diagnosis and treatment. Speaking compellingly about the emotional harm women who need abortions to save their lives or health – or because the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest – would suffer, she urged the Committee to vote “no” on the Bill.

Representative Joe Lyons, chief sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that his intent was to erect barriers that would deter women from having an abortion – and then, continuing his Orwellian theme – insisted this was a “pro-choice bill.” When Representative Naomi Jakobsson, a mother of 8, opposed the bill because of the harm it would cause a woman seeking an abortion to save her own life, Lyons lectured her about the value of choosing fetal life – acknowledging in the end that the bill was not about women’s health.

The Ag Committee demonstrated its superior expertise in cleaning mussels from boats (the first bill heard Tuesday) rather than health care in its consideration of HB 4117 – a bill that would force doctors who provide abortions, contraception and other reproductive health services to either build small hospitals or stop providing abortion care entirely. This bill aims to shut down women’s health clinics by creating a medically inappropriate regulatory scheme that will be nearly impossible to comply with (these bills are often called TRAP bills). Brushing aside testimony from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which opposed HB 4117 because it would replace the existing and effective regulatory scheme with medically-inappropriate regulations, committee members instead resorted to partisan attacks on insurance coverage for contraception. Indeed, the Committee turned aside IDPH testimony on regulations and inspections of health care facilities – instead following the testimony of a representative of the Illinois Right to Life Committee.

I was incredibly proud of the ACLU volunteers and supporters who came with us on Tuesday to Springfield. They stood in silent protest of the travesty of placing complicated legislation impacting women’s reproductive health in the same committee that normally focuses on muskrat hunting and roadkill. While the committee refused to acknowledge their presence, we know that the world is watching, and the fight to defend women’s reproductive health is not yet over.

Both the ultrasound bill and the trap bill hurt women’s health, demean women’s rights, impose expensive regulatory costs on a cash-strapped state, and are bad public policy. We are not livestock – and we demand that our rights be respected.