CHICAGO - Illinois in general and Chicago in particular are an oasis of freedom surrounded by states that have enacted what activists call "extreme anti-abortion" and anti-gender affirming laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
On Thursday, Chicago alderpersons took a giant step toward making certain out-of-staters arriving in the city seeking care unavailable in their home states are not further victimized by becoming targets of investigation.
The Committee on Health and Human Relations approved an ordinance championed by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd).
It would prohibit the Chicago Police Department or any other agency of local government from cooperating in investigations that seek to criminalize women who come to Chicago seeking abortions and other reproductive care. It would also shield medical providers who treat those patients and those who help, such as by providing information, transportation and housing.
Modeled after the Welcoming Cities Ordinance that has made Chicago a "sanctuary city" for undocumented residents, the ordinance also calls for expanding Chicago’s 311 non-emergency line to provide information and resources to people seeking access to abortion and gender-affirming care.
"I want to thank the immigrant rights movement for giving us the blueprint — for fighting so hard — so that Chicago could be a welcoming city for immigrants, which now we can use to protect everybody else. Everybody else that is in need of refuge," Rodriguez Sanchez told her colleagues.
"This speaks to how our struggles are interconnected and how our city is responsible for acting with solidarity towards the people that are the most marginalized and the most impacted by a system that oppresses them."
Mike Ziri, director of public policy for Equality Illinois, said reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights are "inextricably linked to the right to privacy, bodily autonomy and the freedom to be ourselves and build our own families without discrimination or criminalization."
He "believed" Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he wrote in his concurring opinion overturning Roe v. Wade that the Supreme Court "should reconsider its past rulings protecting contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage," Ziri said.
But, Ziri added: "Attacks against LGBTQ communities are not what is next on the agenda. They’re already happening."
"The attorney general of Texas … said he would defend any Texas law that sought to re-criminalize same-sex relationship. Also in Texas, parents of trans youth are being accused … and investigated by state government of ‘child abuse’ for affirming and supporting their trans children. Just for loving their children. And in Florida recently, the state government has ended Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care for all ages," Ziri said.
Likewise, Brigid Leahy, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said there has been a "dramatic surge in patients forced to flee" abortion bans in their home states.
It’s expected to increase dramatically — with an "immediate impact" on Chicago — when Indiana’s abortion goes into effect next week, she said.
"Abortion patients from other states are often confused and anxious about what the laws are here and whether or not they might be at risk of prosecution or civil action for coming to Illinois for care. This ordinance will make sure that the city’s resources are not used to further intimidate, harass and block these patients from getting the care that they need," she said.
Alicia Hurtardo of the Chicago Abortion Fund talked about pressures facing out of state patients seeking refuge in Chicago.
"One woman flying from Texas across multiple state lines with her young daughter just to come to Illinois to pick up pills for her abortion, since she couldn’t access care in her home state. A caller drove five hours to get here from Ohio because their appointment was already canceled at home due to the implementation of a six-week ban. This caller didn’t trust making an appointment in Indiana, even though it was closer, just in case another ban was put in place. Which now we know isn’t an off-base assumption to make," she said.
"We’re here to take that logistical and financial burden off of our callers as much as we can. But protection from criminalization is something that we’re leaning on our … elected officials to provide."
In 1985, then-Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order prohibiting city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws.
He made the move — setting stage for Chicago’s sanctuary city ordinance — to protest the federal government’s decision to question people seeking city services and conduct random searches of city records in an effort to find and prosecute undocumented immigrants.
Two months ago, Lightfoot followed Washington’s playbook, signing an executive order enacting those same protections for those seeking abortions and gender-affirming care in Chicago.
If, as expected, the full City Council approves Rodriguez Sanchez ordinance, that executive order, which is more vulnerable to a legal challenge, would be replaced by the force of law.