Basking in the victory of the recent passage of Illinois' HB 40 pro-choice legislationand preparing for almost-certain numerous challenges to reproductive-rights in the months aheadhundreds of supporters of Personal PAC, among them dozens of politicians and candidates, gathered Oct. 30 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers for the organization's annual luncheon.
HB 40, which was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner Sept. 28, nullified a law from the 1970s that would have immediately outlawed abortion in the state should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, an outcome that seems probable given the court's current composition.
Another significant portion of the legislation further stratifies the reproductive-rights of low-income womenHB 40 says that Medicaid funds can be used to pay for abortion services, which had, until now, been prohibited. State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and state Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsored the bill, were called to the stage at the luncheon in honor of their work.
Personal PAC CEO and President Terry Cosgrove said, "HB 40 is your victory." But he added that the time for the supporters to rest on their laurels had already passed, noting that some 20 anti-abortion organizations in the state had pledged to get the law overturned; three pieces of legislation fighting HB 40 have been filed in the General Assembly, as well as lawsuits challenging it in the courts.
"I hate to say this, but about five percent of this work is victories, and 95 percent of it is fighting backlash," Cosgrove said.
Joy-Ann Reid, who hosts MSNBC's AM Joy program, spoke about the history of reproductive-rights in the context of politics since the mid-19th Century, and also discussed the significance of the recent success of the Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale, and renewed interest in the Margaret Atwood novel on which the series is based.
"The reality is women have to make this decision for themselves … to exercise literal sovereignty over their body," Reid said, adding, "We have been fighting too long to become handmaids now."
Personal PAC's Irving B. Harris Spirit of Choice Award was awarded to attorney Tina Tchen, who formerly worked as an assistant to President Barack Obama as well as chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama. She was one of the people who gathered at the 1989 meeting that ultimately led to the focused goals of Personal PAC on electoral politics.
"Personal PAC was a dream in my backyard," Tchen said. "… What we have built will be life-changing for so many women."
For the first time in public, Tchen spoke about having an abortion when she became pregnant at age 18, adding, "On behalf of all those 18 year old girls ... I am so grateful to Personal PAC and I'm so grateful to all of you." Cosgrove, later in the afternoon, similarly spoke about his mother's decision in 1959 to have an abortion when their family was having difficultiesa story she kept hidden for decades.
Khadine Bennett, ACLU of Illinois' director of advocacy and intergovernmental affairs, and Jackie Kaplan-Perkins, Human Rights Watch's Chicago and Midwest Region director, were each awarded Personal PAC's Pro-Choice Leadership Award. In her remarks, Bennett reiterated that the HB 40 legislative victory could likely be fleeting: "Remember [the moment], you may need to recall it when things get tough."
Kaplan-Perkins, a longtime fundraiser for progressive causes, added, "It is our checkbooks, not our Facebooks, that truly reflect our values, and that is why we do what we do."
Other speakers and presenters at the gathering included state Sen. Toi Hutchinson and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Harmon, who introduced politicians in attendance; Personal PAC Board Chair Melissa Widen; Treasurer Alison Mankowski; board member Oren Jacobson; event Co-Chair and board member Eileen Dordek; and event Co-Chair Amy Bluhm. Also at the event was Marcie Love, founding chair of Personal PAC.