As of July 11, reproductive rights are now considered human rights under the Oak Park village code. The amendment to include reproductive rights enshrines the village’s commitment to protect reproductive freedom and access to safe and legal abortion as well as reproductive health-care services.
“It is very important to me that we use the language reproductive health because this is not just about abortions,” said Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who requested the village code amendment.
The change comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to revoke abortion’s status as a constitutional right under its Dobbs v. Jackson ruling. The recent ruling directly reverses the legal precedent established by the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that the right to seek an abortion was protected under the Constitution of the United States.
The reversal now makes legalized abortion a matter of state government but brings into question the future legality of other reproductive matters, such as in vitro fertilization and contraception.
“As somebody who is going through my own reproductive health challenges, I can tell you that the state of conversations — when it comes to reproductive health, the right to privacy — have all conflated the ability of people to choose their right to their own care to the point that it makes it super-emotional,” Walker-Peddakotla said.
The entire village board voted in favor of passing the resolution to classify reproductive rights as human rights in village code, save Trustee Jim Taglia who was absent from the meeting and therefore could not cast a vote.
However, the amendment, which passed as is, did not entirely satisfy Trustee Lucia Robinson, an attorney.
She took issue with a section of the amendment that directs the village of Oak Park to object to any subpoenas or information requests “from any out-of-state person or entity for the purposes of investigating a law criminalizing abortion or reproductive health care as set forth in this article or creates civil liability for abortion or reproductive health care.”
Robinson stated she is “really horrified” by the Supreme Court’s decision and that it was “critically important” for her as a legal professional to ensure the amendment is air-tight in its effectiveness, but she found it concerning that the amendment categorically requires rejection of subpoenas for reproductive health cases and investigations. This, she said, is not a common basis for objecting a subpoena.
“I’m not entirely comfortable with by law directing the law department to just summarily object to every subpoena that we might receive,” she said.
Her concerns over this particular part of the amendment extended to future village boards, who would not have the power to direct the village’s legal department to respond to subpoenas of this nature without having to further amend village code.
“It is usurping that authority from future boards,” she said.
Citing how elections have the power to alter the course of legislation, however, Trustee Susan Buchanan said she was completely comfortable with not giving future boards the ability to decide whether or not to object on reproductive rights-related subpoenas on a case-by-case basis.
Robinson was also not convinced there was any likelihood at all that the village would receive such a subpoena, despite many states considering possible legislation that would punish those who seek out-of-state legal abortions. A bill is pending in Missouri, just below Illinois, that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident have an abortion even if the procedure takes place in a different state.
“We may be putting forth legislation that has a piece of it that just doesn’t really have teeth,” Robinson said.
Walker-Peddakotla, a law student, disagreed, believing that portion of the amendment gives the village legal standing to object to those specific subpoenas.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of if we get a subpoena request, it’s a matter of when,” Walker-Peddkotla said.
Robinson ultimately voted in favor of passing the amendment, but wanted her objections noted for the record in the meeting’s official minutes.