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Op-Ed Wed Mar 25 2009
The following is an op-ed by Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Yohnka is the primary spokesperson for the most prominent civil rights and civil liberties advocacy organization in the State of Illinois, an organization with more than 23,000 members.
As policy-makers and special interest groups in Washington debate various proposals to extend health care to millions of uninsured Americans, the Illinois General Assembly has an opportunity during its current session to expand reproductive health care in the state. House Bill 2354 — now on the floor of the House of Representatives — reflects an effort by a broad coalition of organizations (the Campaign for Reproductive Health and Access) to move beyond the decades-long, contentious debate in our society focused on abortion and engage a more comprehensive discussion about the need to expand access to reproductive health care for all women in Illinois.
The Illinois Reproductive Health and Access Act offers a woman a continuum of choices throughout her reproductive life — from honest, medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education to access to quality birth control, prenatal care, information about adoption and, if necessary, the right to choose abortion based on her individual circumstances and concerns. It is clear that we need to ensure that a woman has as many responsible options as possible when it comes to making important decisions about her reproductive health care.
In an organized effort to reduce unintended pregnancies, House Bill 2354 requires that all public schools teach medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education. Such education is needed in our public schools to reverse the dangerous effects (including skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted disease among teenagers) that have resulted from an overuse of abstinence only until marriage programs funded with federal taxpayer dollars. Any parent in Illinois would be allowed to remove their children from the sexual health education classes if they do not want them to participate.
Additionally, the RHAA guarantees everyone in our state the ability to use or refuse contraception without government interference. It puts control over reproductive health care in our state clearly and directly in the hands of women, rather than in the hands of politicians driven by ideology.
The RHAA is both comprehensive and popular. A recent poll of 600 registered voters in Illinois found that 71 percent of all voters support the measure — a broad consensus with strong support among many demographic groups.
Despite this broad support, we have seen a good deal of hyperbolic, highly rhetorical language aimed at this legislation. Some have claimed that the bill would force health care workers who are morally opposed to abortion or contraception to leave the practice or perform abortions they oppose. This is not true. Instead, the act protects both patients and doctors. It allows individual health care professionals to object to providing certain services, while still ensuring that patients receive timely, accurate and complete services as well as information about care options.
Others have claimed that the bill would strip away any regulation of abortion and allow for late term or so-called partial birth abortion. But the truth is that these regulations still will apply, including the ban on so-called partial birth abortion that was adopted at the federal level and upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.
This measure is an important move forward in our state. We hope that all persons in our state will reach out to their state representative and urge support of House Bill 2354. You can find more information by going to illinoisreproductivehealth.org.