Cardinal Cupich: Abortion law ‘sad moment in our history’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Cardinal Cupich addresses the media March 25 at the Illinois Capitol as the state’s bishops held a press conference warning about extreme abortion legislation under consideration by the General Assembly. That legislation was passed May 31. Lane Fowler/Hospital Sisters Health System

The Illinois legislature passed a law that specifically defines abortion as health care and says that a “fertilized egg, embryo or fetus” does not have any independent rights under the laws of the state, bucking the trend of states enacting more restrictive abortion laws.

“It takes away the humanity and the dignity of the unborn child,” said Dawn Fitzpatrick, senior coordinator for the archdiocese’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity.

The bill was approved by the Illinois House in a 64-50 vote May 28 and by the state Senate in a 34-30 partly-line vote late May 31. It was  signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat from Chicago, on June 12.

After it passed, Cardinal Cupich released a statement calling it a “sad moment in our history as a state.”

“We have worked to make the case for a consistent approach to human dignity in Illinois and will continue to do so even as elected officials single out unborn persons for particular disregard,” the statement continued. “It remains our hope that Illinois will eventually distinguish itself as a safe place that welcomes not only those seeking a new life or second chance, but also the most vulnerable among us who deserve a chance at life.”

The vote came after several states passed laws making abortion illegal in most cases. Alabama’s law, signed by Gov. Kay Ivey May 15, makes performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a crime punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. The only exception is if the life of the mother is at risk.

Several other states, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Ohio have passed bills banning abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is at about six weeks of pregnancy. Such laws have been struck down in the courts in the past, and the laws in Kentucky and Mississippi have already been temporarily blocked by federal judges.

The Illinois law was passed as a statement of opposition to those laws, said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the lobbying arm of the state’s bishops.

Before the most recent wave of laws passed in May, this bill appeared to be languishing in committee, Gilligan said. Legislators who knew it would be divisive among their constituents didn’t have much enthusiasm about voting on it.

But when several states passed laws designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion across the United States, there was no stopping it, Gilligan said.

“We heard from legislators that there was nothing we could do after that,” he said.
Fitzpatrick put more starkly.

“The abortion lobby wants to make sure that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, they’ll still have a place they can do abortions,” she said.

But the fact is, Gilligan said, that abortions would have remained legal in Illinois even if Roe v. Wade were overturned without this law, and Illinois lawmakers took the issue further than most people in America want to go.

“If you look at opinion polls, most people want abortion to be legal, and most people want restrictions on it,” he said. “People want it both ways. The question has always been where do you draw that line. This creates a whole new level that says abortion is a fundamental right.”
Fitzpatrick said the bill shows that legislators need to attend to what their constituents have to say.

“We had so many people fighting against this,” she said. “Thousands of letters, personal visits … and it didn’t matter.”

She encouraged Catholics to find out how their legislators voted on the bill.

She also praised Cardinal Cupich for his leadership.

“He’s been very, very involved with this,” Fitzpatrick said. “He mobilized the parishes, he asked the priests to speak about it, he encouraged parishioners to contact their legislators.”

Cardinal Cupich and the other bishops of the Catholic Conference of Illinois wrote three open letters to legislators and also held a press conference in March urging legislators not to approve the bill.

In his statement after the approval, Cardinal Cupich touched on the ways the church supports women, encouraging them to choose life for their babies.

“We are resolved to let women and families in the Chicago area know they have alternatives to abortion,” he wrote. “We will continue to provide help during their pregnancies and throughout their journey as parents. Our ministry in Cook and Lake Counties has taught us that when teenagers in underserved communities experience an unplanned pregnancy without proper support, the consequences for the health and well-being of mother and child can be grim.

“But, we have also seen that a brighter outcome is possible when support is provided. Catholic Charities and its partners serve hundreds of young women and developing families every year. They nurture the mother and therefore the baby by providing classes in health and child development. They encourage the new families toward independence by providing childcare and making referrals for education, housing and employment. …

“Women have a real choice when they are given the support they need to bring their children into the world and parent them, supported by a society that truly values them. We will give that support to all who seek it in the hope that by offering them a choice, we will build stronger families and a better Illinois.”

To read Cardinal Cupich's complete statement, click here.

Updated to add that the bill was signed into law June 12.


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  • abortion
  • prolife

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