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Group aims to stop Illinois from becoming the "abortion capital of the Midwest"

Activists rally against Illinois abortion law
Activists rally against Illinois abortion law... 08:38

It hasn't been a good year for anti-abortion activists in Illinois.

While other states across the Midwest and South were busy passing abortion bans this spring, Illinois went the other direction. Over Memorial Day weekend, lawmakers in Springfield passed the "Reproductive Health Act," a more than 100-page piece of legislation that expands access to abortion and codifies the procedure into law as a "fundamental right." When Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation on June 12, he said the abortion protections in the law made the state a "national leader in protecting reproductive rights."

Not everyone is happy about that. Mary Kate Knorr, the executive director for Illinois Right to Life, told CBS News that she's "disgusted" by the new laws and that they've made Illinois the "abortion capital of the Midwest."

That's why she's embarking on an over 20-event tour of intimate, fireside chats around the state. She's hoping to unify and strengthen activists who oppose abortion in Illinois and ultimately repeal the law.

Materials distributed by Illinois Right to Life. CBS News

At the inaugural event Wednesday evening, Knorr spoke to a crowd of 60 or 70 at a church an hour outside Chicago, explaining her interpretation of the Reproductive Health Act. She also spoke about lawmakers' future plans, including a provision of that repeals the state's formal parental notification requirement for minors seeking an abortion; if passed, those under the age of 18 will able to obtain the procedure without their parents' knowledge, something that shocked many in the room.

"The effort is that we need to really be promoting our pro-life candidates to office," Knorr said. "We can undo this big mess that they created."

In an unprecedented flood of abortion-related legislation, state lawmakers nationwide introduced over 300 bills restricting access to the procedure in the first half of 2019, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion and reproductive health research organization. Six states, including Missouri, passed so-called "heartbeat" bans, laws that would prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected in the early weeks of pregnancy. Alabama went a step further, passing a law that bans the procedure in nearly all cases. None of the laws are currently in effect.

But some states — including Illinois — instead expanded access to the procedure. New York passed its own "Reproductive Health Act" in January, expanding access to abortion and formally removing pre-Roe v. Wade laws criminalizing the procedure. In Maine, lawmakers expanded regulations on what types of medical professionals were allowed to administer the procedure and increased insurance coverage requirements of abortion. Vermont politicians approved legislation that protected "reproductive rights and ensuring those decisions remain between a woman and her health care provider."

Illinois' "Reproductive Health Act" repealed the state's pre-Roe v. Wade laws that were still on the books. Though not in effect, the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 included felony penalties for abortion doctors, waiting periods, and a requirement that a married woman get consent from her husband.

Even before this year's legislation, Illinois had become a haven for women seeking abortions in other states. The number of abortions performed in Illinois on out-of-state women doubled from 2012 to 2017 to 16.7%, according to a report from the Associated Press. Much of that increase has come from patients in neighboring Missouri, where women don't have access to a pill-based procedure and must undergo a 72-hour waiting period. Missouri is also home to only one functioning abortion clinic — the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis — which for some patients can mean a drive of over three hours.

Despite the increase of abortion-seeking patients coming to her state, Knorr said she's staying optimistic.

"We are in a really special situation, that all of these states are passing pro-life legislation and all of these women are coming, who feel like they need an abortion, they're coming here," Knorr said in an interview with CBS News Wednesday evening. "We're a pocket and we want to shut that down. The influence will be ten times over if we're able to do that."

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