‘Handmaids’ protesters silently urge Rauner to sign abortion rights bill

Demonstrators stood silently outside Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Chicago office Aug. 9 asking him to keep his campaign promises. 

By Eric Bradach

Dressed in red robes and white bonnets—a nod to the Hulu original show “The Handmaid’s Tale” based on the book of the same name by Margaret Atwood—demonstrators stood in silence outside Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Chicago office on Aug. 9, asking him to hold true to his campaign promises. 

Rauner campaigned as a fiscal conservative and a supporter of reproductive rights during Illinois’ 2014 governor election. However, Rauner has threatened to veto a bill that would strengthen abortion rights in Illinois. 

If Rauner were to veto House Bill 40 it would be “unconscionable,” said Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman, 30, who helped organize the Aug. 9 silent protest outside the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. 

Introduced by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, in December 2016, HB40 aims to eliminate “trigger” language in Illinois law that would criminalize abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The bill would also remove any provision that would bar insurance coverage for abortion services to women who rely on Medicaid or state employee health insurance. It passed the House in April, 62–55, and the Senate in May, 33–22. However, because of Rauner’s veto threats, Democrats have yet to send him the bill, according to state legislative records. 

“I applaud my colleagues in the Senate for standing up for women’s rights today,” Feigenholtz said in a May 10 press release when the bill passed the Senate. “Illinois took another important step toward healthcare equality for all women who deserve access to all reproductive health options. The burden of giving millions of women in Illinois these fair and equal rights now rest squarely on the shoulders of Bruce Rauner.” 

Illiatovitch-Goldman, a freelance writer and artist who lives in Lincoln Square, said most people are unaware that Illinois does not have protections for reproductive rights. It is important to support HB40 to prevent Illinois from reverting back to 1970s law, she added. 

“Not all forms of insurance are accepted by healthcare providers for abortion [in Illinois], and that’s not OK,” Illiatovitch-Goldman said. “You should have equal access to things regardless of what your job, insurance provider or income level is. It’s discriminatory otherwise.” 

Valerie Bodurtha, a 20-year-old Hyde Park resident, said she immediately volunteered for the silent protest when she learned about the bill and Rauner’s opposition because she thinks people are more concerned about legislation at the federal level. 

“Once I found out this bill was being threatened and might be vetoed, I knew I had to jump in and let people know about it,” said Bodurtha, who is a senior classical studies major at the University of Chicago. 

Illiatovitch-Goldman and Bodurtha both said they do not know the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned. However, Bodurtha said states should modernize their laws and prepare in the event it is overturned to reflect the public’s approval of reproductive rights. 

According to March 2016 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Illinois voters are generally in favor of women’s reproductive rights. Thirty-six percent of voters said abortion should be legal under any circumstance, 44 percent said it should be legal under certain circumstances and only 15 percent said it should be illegal under all circumstances.

Illiatovitch-Goldman and Bodurtha both said numerous people have been open to talking to them about the issue. However, Illiatovitch-Goldman said there had been some negative comments directed at them, adding that “one of our volunteers was told that we should all close our legs.” 

While Illiatovitch-Goldman said she does not know why Rauner flipped his position on the subject, she suspected that pressure from social conservatives and his need for their support in the upcoming election may have acted as a motivator.

“Like so many of our other billionaire leaders at the moment, I don’t trust him one way or the other,” Illiatovitch-Goldman said. “All I can do is come out here and [encourage people to sign] our petition from Planned Parenthood Illinois.” 

Demonstrators were outside the Thompson Center for eight hours, 7 a.m.–3 p.m., and were able to obtain more than 500 signatures, according to the group’s Twitter page. 

A Rauner spokesperson did not reply to request for comment as of press time.

“If there’s one thing that progressives have learned from [the 2016] election is that we can’t wait for the bad thing to happen to start responding,” Illiatovitch-Goldman said. “Regardless of Roe v. Wade, Illinois should be protecting its citizens.”