Illinois bill would ban government travel to pro-life states

shutterstock 1338634586 Rough road leading to the Illinois State Capitol Building. Springfield, Illinois. | Eddie Rodriquez/Shutterstock

An Illinois state representative has introduced legislation to prevent government employees from traveling to states which have enacted pro-life legislation. The Illinois state Catholic conference told CNA the bill is "absurd."

The bill, introduced last week by Rep. Daniel Didech (D-Buffalo Grove), would ban any Illinois state agency from requiring or approving travel by any of its employees or officers to states with laws that prohibited abortion at 8 weeks of pregnancy or upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

The bill would also ban state-sponsored travel to jurisdictions that do not have exemptions in abortion laws for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or that require an investigation in the cause of a miscarriage.

Didech filed HB 3901 Sept. 26, saying the measures is intended to protect Illinois employees.

"What these other states are doing is, to me, very dangerous. To a large extent, yes, abortion is a big part of it, but it's not entirely about abortion," Didech told the State Journal-Register.

"As a member of the legislature, I have the responsibility to protect our state employees."

Since the beginning of the year, 12 states have passed measures to tighten restrictions on abortion. Several states, including Georgia and Missouri, which borders Illinois, have enacted so-called heartbeat bills that prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Several of those laws are now under judicial review.

The Illinois bill would create a general prohibition on state employees or representatives from state-funded or approved travel to other states for any reason, including conferences, litigation, or for training.

"This is not like a boycott of those states or anything like that, although in effect, it may look similar," Didech said.

"The purpose of the bill is to protect women who may not be able to get the health care they may need when they're traveling on official state business," he said, though it is unclear which other state's legislation would create such effects. Many of the laws passed since January only apply to residents of the state.

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference, which serves as the public policy voice for the state's six Catholic dioceses, called the bill "absurd."

"Where does this thinking begin and end?" he said to CNA Sept. 30.

"There are states that have weaker gun laws, different speed limits out West, different smoking laws - why don't we protect our state employees when they travel to other states when they may not have the same laws as Illinois on these issues?" he asked.

"The obvious point is: why does this always have to come back to abortion?"

Gilligan told CNA that beyond taking a stand against other state's views on abortion, there was no clear rationale for the measure.

"I mean it is absurd... do we prevent state employees from traveling to Flint, Michigan where they have less safe water? This type of thinking is endless. State laws should pertain to what happens in Illinois, and this is an unjust law so it shouldn't even be on the books."

"Where does this type of thinking end and where do you draw the line?" asked Gilligan.

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"If the real aim of this bill is to protect people, surely we should ban traveling to states where they have different laws from Illinois on all sorts of things and it isn't safe for them to travel to."

Gilligan noted that the bill would allow state-sponsored travel in special cases, should the trip be deemed by a state agency to be necessary despite the ban, and suggested that the bill could prove to be almost unenforceable.

"If there is a conference and it's determined that an employee needs to be there, they should go," he told CNA. "And if they do not need to be there, they should not be spending state dollars going in the first place."

The bill would also require the state attorney general "to develop, maintain, and post on his or her internet website a current list of states that have enacted specified laws prohibiting or restricting abortion rights," to which other departments would defer in making travel plans.

"I think we should have a list of all states with weaker air pollution laws, water laws, driving laws, gun laws, and we shouldn't be sending people to those areas either," Gilligan told CNA.

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