JB Pritzker looks to mother’s legacy to push for leadership role on abortion rights

The sadness still shows in JB Pritzker’s eyes when he talks about his mother Sue, the woman the governor credits with instilling his early interest in abortion rights and progressive activism.

It has been 40 years since his mother, who suffered from alcoholism, died in a gruesome car accident when Pritzker was just 17, just 10 years after his father clutched his chest and died suddenly of a heart attack at 39. years.

But Pritzker’s memories of his mother live on even now, especially as he works to elevate his fight for abortion rights to the national stage.

“I see everything that I do to fight for women’s rights and reproductive rights and frankly LGBTQ rights, just taking those issue sets and equity, those are all things that I think my mother would want me to do,” Pritzker said. the Chicago Sun-Times during a flight to an event at a Planned Parenthood clinic in southern Illinois. “That’s what she was doing. That is what I want to do and achieve.”

‘She wanted me to learn’

Pritzker, a California boy in the 1970s, frequently attended protest marches with his mother, including rallies in support of abortion rights for women.

“She wanted me to learn,” Pritzker said, joking that he was often paraded into meetings with politicians and activists because he was too young to be left alone. “The result was that she was in rooms and in marches and protests that I don’t think many nine-year-olds would be able to participate in.”

Pritzker is heir to the Hyatt hotel empire.

Gloria Steinem attends the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida.

Her mother was also an activist, finance chair for Democratic senators who ran for re-election in 1976, and Northern California women’s chair for the Democratic party. That meant the likes of Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, David Goodstein and Gloria Steinem were in her infancy.

“I was exposed to this because my mother exposed me to it. And I saw her. She was able to witness her belief system, enthusiasm for fighting these fights,” Pritzker recalled.

“Equity was not a word that was used back then. But that’s what he was doing for colored people. … It kind of feels like it’s part of my DNA. I know it’s nurture, not nature. But I can’t imagine another set of views.”

‘Literally like a disease took hold of her’

Politicians frequently mention their origin stories. President Joe Biden talks about his father frequently, touting the middle-class values ​​he was taught. Pritzker himself is now airing a television ad about his mother that first ran during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Called “Honor,” it features the governor speaking about his mother’s battle with alcoholism, which he said made him taught “empathy” and “understanding”.

Sue Pritzker with her three-year-old son, future Governor JB Pritzker, in 1968.

Sue Pritzker with her three-year-old son Jay Robert Pritzker, future Governor JB Pritzker, in a 1968 photo.

In earlier interviews, he described in detail his mother’s rapid decline after his father’s death: how he, as a child, would go to his mother’s room to make sure she didn’t accidentally set her sheets on fire while drinking and smoking. in bed.

He has talked about how he, along with his siblings Penny and Tony, were forced to become caretakers at a young age. But the governor continues to speak of his mother’s struggle with alcoholism with deep empathy.

“She was an amazing person. Really, she’s literally like she’s had a disease happen to her. If she took the word alcoholism. That’s how I think of her,” Pritzker said. “This person who is doing all these amazing things, she loses her husband and is affected by a debilitating disease.”

‘It’s a scary day for women’

When you think of a face that represents the struggles women who support abortion rights might face with a reversal of Roe v. Wade, you’re probably not thinking of a 57-year-old billionaire from Chicago. But Pritzker makes it clear that he wants to be a leader in this battle.

Under Pritzker, Illinois in 2019 established the right to reproductive health care, including abortion, into state law, a measure put in place should the landmark case be overturned. And in December, Pritzker signed a measure that repealed the last state law on the books restricting abortion rights, a law that prevented minors from having to notify parents before having an abortion.

An hour after Politico reported on a US Supreme Court draft that could mean the reversal of Roe v. Wade, Pritzker was quickly featured on CNN.

“Well, if this leak is true, this is a terrible day for our nation and it’s a shameful decision. It’s a scary day for women,” she said on CNN.

Future Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, right, attends an abortion rights rally with activist Carole Boron, left, in 1992.

Future Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, right, attends an abortion rights rally with activist Carole Boron, left, in 1992.

A day later, the governor stood with dozens of Democratic lawmakers in Chicago and vowed that Illinois will continue to be a “beacon of hope” and a place for women to feel safe should the landmark case be overturned. That same week, she appeared in more national interviews on CNN and MSNBC.

Of course, the Democratic governor is also in the midst of a reelection battle, and Democrats know the issue will help boost voter turnout during a heated midterm year. Pritzker is also trying to capitalize on Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Richard Irvin’s silence on the leaked draft opinion, while the other GOP candidates espouse strong anti-abortion stances.

And the issue makes long-term sense for Pritzker, too, given speculation about his political ambitions, including a possible future run for president.

By helping to forge his national image, Pritzker is also using his financial might to help fuel the reelection campaigns of other Democratic governors, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. Michigan and Wisconsin have Republican majorities in their state legislatures. Minnesota has Republicans in control of the state Senate and Democrats in control of the state House.

‘You are going to see a tsunami of activism’

On Wednesday, hours before the US Senate rejected efforts by Democrats to codify Roe v. Wade in a federal law, Pritzker visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights, in the eastern metro area, just 11 miles from the Missouri state line.

Since January, the clinic has brought nearly 1,000 patients from seven states to southern Illinois, with clinics and support groups helping arrange travel, lodging and financial assistance for patients seeking reproductive care. The number of out-of-state patients coming to Illinois for abortions has tripled since 2015.

Governor JB Pritzker hugs Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton.

Governor JB Pritzker hugs Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton before delivering remarks during a pro-abortion rights rally in the Loop earlier this month.

Archive Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“Let me get this straight: Illinois is a pro-choice state, and as long as I am governor and we retain a pro-choice Legislature, we will support the right of all women to reproductive freedom,” Pritzker told a conference. in the recovery room of the clinic.

“When women come here to this state, they are welcome. You are supported. Are you sure. You will not need to suffer additional trauma; You will be treated with dignity, empathy and compassion.”

The Democratic governor later told the Sun-Times that he knows the issue is deeply personal and affects all women, including his own 19-year-old daughter. He said he talked to her about abortion rights and introduced her to the Equal Rights Amendment when he called for choral support for it to be ratified in Illinois in 2018.

“That was the first time I talked to her about anything related to women’s rights and the protection of women’s rights. And now she is shocked by the possibility that we can go back,” Pritzker said.

“That never crossed his mind, really. Since she is an adult, in this rage, she is 19 years old. It has always been a fact. And that’s why you’re going to see a tsunami of activism during the election and maybe beyond. Because people wake up and say, ‘What?’ I don’t think anyone thought we could go back.”

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