Smile Politely

Bad Laws: The Illinois Abortion Law of 1975

How embarrassing it must be to live in Indiana right now, huh?

Their legislature seems bent on out-”freedom”-ing Saudi Arabia. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in a theocracy?

Well, did you know that Illinois is, by law and policy, anti-abortion? Yeah, I didn’t think so. You haven’t read the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975.

Sec. 1. It is the intention of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois to reasonably regulate abortion in conformance with the decisions of the United States Supreme Court of January 22, 1973. Without in any way restricting the right of privacy of a woman or the right of a woman to an abortion under those decisions, the General Assembly of the State of Illinois do solemnly declare and find in reaffirmation of the longstanding policy of this State, that the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person for purposes of the unborn child’s right to life and is entitled to the right to life from conception under the laws and Constitution of this State. Further, the General Assembly finds and declares that longstanding policy of this State to protect the right to life of the unborn child from conception by prohibiting abortion unless necessary to preserve the life of the mother is impermissible only because of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court and that, therefore, if those decisions of the United States Supreme Court are ever reversed or modified or the United States Constitution is amended to allow protection of the unborn then the former policy of this State to prohibit abortions unless necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life shall be reinstated.

It’s still on the books. i.e. it’s the law.

How did this come to pass? Given a choice on choice, Illinois has not elected an anti-abortion governor since Roe v. Wade. (George Ryan and Glenn Poshard were both anti-abortion, although Poshard is famous for taking his ideas from other people.)

In 1975, Governor Dan Walker (a Chicago Democrat and member of our gubernatorial prisoners club) faced a tough primary campaign in his bid for reelection. The Chicago machine, led by Hizzoner Richard J. Daley, preferred conservative Democrat Michael Howlett, Illinois Secretary of State.

Daley and Howlett were both members of the Roman Conspiracy’s Irish chapter, and took the Vatican’s position on your womb. Chicago’s first lady Sis Daley quipped “I’d rather have a baby on my lap than on my conscience.”

Walker felt he was perceived to be the choicier of the two Democrats. From his memoir The Maverick and the Machine:

What about the legislature?

Republican House Speaker Robert Blair had survived a scathing intra-party challenge from Henry Hyde in 1973. You’ll remember Hyde as the world’s biggest hypocrite. Imposing his church’s policy on the public was not merely a habit for Hyde, it was his priority.

In the wake of Watergate, Blair and the Republicans lost the Illinois House in 1974 and  Democrat William Redmond became Speaker in 1975. But again, don’t imagine that Democrat = liberal.

From Redmond’s oral history (.pdf), conducted by Lee Nicholson in 1982:

In these electoral squabbles, a woman’s rights were kicked around like a political football. Appealing to the Blue Dog Democrats of Illinois’ southern counties (coalminers, other union laborers, and a whole lotta “one true church” members around Saint Louis) and the Irish, Italian, Latino and Polish communities of Chicago — all perceived in thrall to Rome — made anti-choice rhetoric a no-brainer, especially when the law in question seemed toothless, lacking all practical consequence.

That manipulation of sentiments hasn’t changed in the intervening forty years, but we usually think of ignorant southerners using words like “Jesus” and “fetus” to hoodwink a guileless electorate  We’re an enlightened, progressive state, right?

Nope. Our general assembly and a long line of pro-choice governors has failed, utterly, to rescind the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975. Thus, Illinois will prohibit (by law, mind you) all abortions the minute Antonin Scalia gives the OK.


A 1991 article from the Chicago Tribune questions the validity of the law. At the time, advocates on both sides said the law wasn’t enforceable. But a University of Chicago law professor wasn’t persuaded by their logic. It’s easy to see why NARAL would argue against the law’s applicability. But in a more cunning & devious sense, it’s also easy to see why National Right To Life would pooh-pooh its efficacy: They don’t want anyone to notice it.

If the law is unenforceable, how would we find out? A defendant would need “standing” to challenge it in court. That means s/he’d have to be arrested (booked, jailed, etc.) to earn a hearing on the merits. (Standing re: this particular law was already the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case.)

Enforcement is the tricky aspect of any law, as President Andrew Jackson reminded Chief Justice John Marshall. If the county sheriff believes in the law, and that county’s state’s attorney believes in the law …

How many Joe Arpaios are there among Illinois’ 102 county sheriffs?  How many circuit judges, elected from the same pools of voters as their counterparts in the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices, are likely — as a matter of politics or jurisprudence — to to disagree with them?

It is, after all, the law.

Any person who intentionally or knowingly performs an abortion contrary to the requirements of Section 3.1 commits a Class 2 felony.
(Source: P.A. 83-1128.)

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