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Illinois Anti-Abortion Bills Approved By State Agriculture Committee Over Pro-Choice Groups' Protests

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Pro-choice activists demonstrate in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
Pro-choice activists demonstrate in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

Two contentious pieces of abortion-related legislation being pushed by pro-life lawmakers this week in Illinois sailed through the state's Agriculture and Conservation Committee and are now headed toward a vote by the full state House.

The first bill (House Bill 4117, sponsored by state Rep. Thomas Morrison, a Palatine Republican) would implement a new host of regulations for surgical centers that perform abortions, including "any other facility where 50 or more abortions are performed in any calendar year."

The second bill (HB 4085, the "Ultrasound Opportunity Act") would require abortion facilities to take an ultrasound image of the woman's fetus after she requested the procedure. She would be able to decline the offer in writing.

The News-Gazette reports that both bills were overwhelmingly approved by the House committee, while only Reps. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) and Deb Mell (D-Chicago) voted against them.

Rep. Joseph Lyons (D-Chicago), who is sponsoring the ultrasound bill, called his legislation "a pro-choice bill," while Jakobsson countered that "I think what you are getting at is trying to discourage the woman from trying to protect her life," according to the News-Gazette.

Mell questioned the bills' peculiar assignment to the state's agriculture committee despite the fact they have nothing to do with either farming or the environment.

"We're not talking about abortions for cows and pigs, right? We're talking about women?" Mell said, according to the Associated Press.

Pro-choice groups attended the vote while wearing t-shirts proclaiming "Women are not livestock."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois argues that the bills "pose a serious threat to women's health." Viewing an ultrasound image could prove emotionally harmful for women who need abortions to save their lives, the group argues.

The regulatory bill, the ACLU says, is aiming "to shut down women’s health clinics" altogether by introducing regulations they say are medically inappropriate, per the testimony of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"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," Colleen Connell, ACLU of Illinois executive director wrote in a statement.

Responding to the ultrasound bill, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) last week said she would introduce a reciprocal measure -- one that would require individuals seeking Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction to watch a video about the potential side effects before receiving it.

The Better Government Association reported last year that similar bills' assignment to the agriculture committee is a common practice for legislators looking to fast-track bills addressing conservative policies to a floor vote. The tactic has been utilized to benefit legislation addressing gambling, abortion and even the state's hotly-debated concealed carry measure.

Despite their approval by the conservative-leaning committee, both bills face an uncertain future in a full House vote, Jakobsson told the News-Gazette.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Rep. Morrison as a Democrat.

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