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Democrat-Sponsored 'TEXAS Act' Would Allow $10K Bounties On Sexual Abusers and Others

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

Two weeks after Texas effectively banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a Democratic state lawmaker in Illinois is proposing a law based on Texas' model — but turned on its head.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who in 2019 sponsored law defining abortion as a fundamental right in Illinois, is introducing a bill dubbed the “EXpanding Abortion Services Act,” the acronym of which spells TEXAS.

The Texas law is uniquely designed, allowing private citizens the right to bring a civil lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion, gets an abortion or aids in someone getting an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Opponents of the law have described the minimum $10,000 in damages up for grabs as a “bounty.”

Cassidy’s proposal instead would instead give Illinoisans the right to seek at least $10,000 in damages against anyone who causes an unwanted pregnancy — even if it resulted from consensual sex — or anyone who commits sexual assault or abuse, including domestic violence.

“If folks are policing the bodies of people who are seeking reproductive healthcare in Texas, well, then maybe we should be policing the bodies of the people who are causing those problems here in Illinois,” Cassidy told NPR Illinois.

Under Cassidy’s bill, half of the damages awarded would go toward a new “State Abortion Freedom Access Fund,” to be managed by the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The money would also be required to be halved even if a case is settled. The fund would be used as financial aid for people from states with limited abortion access to travel to Illinois for the procedure.

While Cassidy acknowledged the bill’s name and modeling after the Texas law includes some element of trolling, she said she’s serious about getting co-sponsors and a hearing on the legislation.

“There’s certainly an element of ‘hold my beer’ to this, obviously,” Cassidy said. “But the truth here is if this is our new normal, if this is the way that conservatives are going to police women’s bodies, and we as a state have — with a great deal of intentionality — have established ourselves as a safe haven, we also…have to figure out a way to manage that.”

House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll said it’s up to Cassidy to request a hearing on the bill, but “the Speaker certainly wouldn’t stand in the way of one.” Welch has also pushed for reproductive rights in his time in office.

At an event in Aurora Tuesday morning, Planned Parenthood of Illinois President and CEO appeared with Gov. JB Pritzker and three Democratic members of Congress to promote legislation seeking to enshrine abortion rights in federal law. Welch said Planned Parenthood facilities in Illinois have already seen an uptick in people traveling across state lines to get abortions in Illinois.

“It only took two days after [the Texas law] was enacted for us to see Texas patients here in Illinois, despite those long distances they had to travel,” Welch said. “We expect those numbers to significantly increase when these dangerous laws continue.”

Cassidy said she’s heard the same anecdotally from abortion providers, and recalled doubt from colleagues and others when she sponsored the Reproductive Health Act in 2019, saying she was told it was hyperbolic to predict the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade would be overturned. That decision upheld a woman's right to privacy in decisions about abortion, effectively allowing the practice nationwide.

Because private citizens act as the enforcement mechanism in the Texas law — and not any one state official — a majority on U.S. Supreme Court late last month declined to block the law from going into effect, reasoning it escapes federal judicial review.

The U.S. Supreme Court is readying to hear a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in a case stemming from Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

At Tuesday morning’s event in Aurora, Pritzker described conservatives’ wins restricting abortion in Republican-run states as a “dystopian future”

“…As radical Republican legislators across the country seek to functionally eradicate their constituents’ autonomy with no intervention from the nation’s highest court to be found,” the governor said.

A 2017 law signed by then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner also aimed to shield Illinois from any future Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade by removing decades-old language from state law that stipulated Roe v. Wade's overturn would trigger the end of abortion protections in Illinois too. That law also legalized the use of state funds for abortions, including for Medicaid recipients.

Ralph Rivera of Illinois Right to Life Action didn't find Cassidy's bill very funny, though he did say he would be on board for legalizing bounties for rapists. Otherwise, he speculated some of the broader strokes in the bill might be found unconstitutional.

"We’re talking about human life," Rivera said. "It’s not silly. Taking a serious matter and trying to be flippant...she could’ve just stated that and not filed a bill."

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.