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Illinois governor signs law expanding access to abortion

CHICAGO – Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed sweeping protections for abortion on Wednesday in a new law that establishes access to the procedure as a "fundamental right" for women.

The move in the state where Democrats control the House, Senate and governor's office comes as several Republican-majority states have taken up steep restrictions or bans on abortion.

"In a time when too many states across the nation are taking a step backward, Illinois is taking a giant step forward for women's health," Pritzker said at the bill signing in Chicago, surrounded by abortion-rights advocates from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "In this state, we trust women."

The new law voids decades-old abortion regulations on the books that had never taken effect because of court orders. For instance, it lifts restrictions on late-term abortions and ends criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions. It also requires insurance coverage for abortions, contraception and related medical care.

It takes effect immediately.

Supporters argued the plan simply puts existing practice into law – something they say has become more urgent as prohibitions on abortion in other states could lead to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure nationwide. Abortion-rights supporters in Illinois said they planned to continue pushing for expanded access, including attempting to remove a parental notification requirement. Vermont and Maine have recently approved abortion protections.

Republicans strongly objected to the Illinois measure, calling it an "extreme expansion." Their concerns included an increase in late-term abortions.

"Illinois is now one of the most radical states for abortion access," state Rep. Avery Bourne, a Raymond Republican, said in a statement Wednesday.

The Thomas More Society, a Christian advocacy group based in Chicago, said the law will make Illinois an "abortion destination for the country." The group said it will fight any efforts to outlaw parental notification.

More than half a dozen states have adopted steep restrictions on abortion, including a near-total ban signed into law in Alabama last month.

Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted laws prohibiting abortion once there's a detectable fetal heartbeat, which could be as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Missouri passed an eight-week ban, with few exceptions.

None of the bans has taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges.

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