New state laws draw comment from Illinois bishops

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, January 18, 2023

In the second week of January, the Illinois legislature passed two major bills that were signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both of which have implications for Catholic social teaching.

On Jan. 10, the “Protect Illinois Communities Act,” which bans assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, was lauded by Illinois bishops in a statement released by the Catholic Conference of Illinois:

“Too many times our state has witnessed the horror of mass shootings, and we hope this legislation will help to provide some peace in our communities going forward. We are grateful for the ban of these deadly weapons in our state. We also recognize that, as was stated in the debate over the legislation, this will not solve all the challenges associated with mass shootings. There is much more to do. We live in a violent culture, mental health needs are many, and too many families are in crisis. We stand ready to work with the General Assembly to help address these challenges,” the statement read.

“Obviously, like many states that have enacted this, and it’s particularly true here in Illinois, after what happened in Highland Park it’s really hard to live after these mass slayings and not want to address at least a significant portion of the problem, which is these weapons that when used can create a lot of damage in a very short period of time and it being death to anyone in its path — that includes children, adults, grandparents like we saw in Highland Park,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

With that in mind, the bishops urged the legislature to pass the ban. But as they discussed it as a group last fall, they also recognized the issue is more complicated than banning weapons.

“They discussed quite a bit what else causes somebody to do this [commit mass shootings],” Gilligan said.

The causes the bishops discussed include living in today’s violent culture and a need for more mental health services for young men.

“There is little disagreement amongst the bishops that one of the problems here is the breakdown of the family and what that has led to,” he said. “This ban on assault weapons is just one thing among many that we should be doing to lessen the possibility that this [a mass shooting] could happen again in the future.”

On Jan. 13, the legislature passed and Gov. Pritzker signed into law HB 4664, which gives women easier access to abortion.

“The legislation found in HB 4664 is likely to put women at risk rather than help them, and unfortunately, it will lead to more abortion and destruction of unborn human life,” the Illinois bishops said in a statement.

“The legislature passed a fairly widespread package that is primarily meant to address that there are more women coming to Illinois for abortions and the Illinois legislature wants to accommodate that and help address that dynamic that’s going on,” Gilligan explained.

Illinois had already seen an increase in women traveling here for abortions before the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson that struck down Roe v. Wade, he said.

The bishops want people to be aware of the legislature’s narrow focus on abortion and “facilitating the killing of an unborn child” with the passage of HB 4664, Gilligan said.

“There doesn’t seem to be any attention on anything else, which is ‘What could the state be doing to promote care for a mom in a difficult situation who doesn’t want to have an abortion?’ That is never brought up in these discussions. It’s all about abortion and what they can do to facilitate that process,” Gilligan said.

The law also allows advanced practice nurses and physician assistants to perform aspiration abortions early in a pregnancy. Aspiration abortions use a non-surgical suction technique and do not require anesthesia, so the legislature was more comfortable with allowing a non-physician to perform them, Gilligan explained.

“The problem with that is that physicians are trained to deal with things that go wrong in a procedure,” he said. “While it is probably true that you can train somebody to do these things when something goes awry — and it can and it does — a physician has more training to deal with those contingencies. People need to know about that — that somebody could be undertaking a procedure who is not trained as a doctor.”

Coupled with the 2019 passage of the Reproductive Health Act that, among other things, eliminated parental notification and established abortion as a fundamental right, this new law raises the question of whether abortions in Illinois are becoming less safe for women, he said.

“Back in the ’90s, we were told that they wanted to make this ‘safe, legal and rare.’ It’s clearly legal in Illinois. This bill, and others like it that have been passed in Illinois, definitely don’t make it more rare. And now I would argue that this is making it less safe,” Gilligan said. “I think that particular provision is something that should be noted.” 


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