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Illinois Governor’s Abortion ‘Flip-Flop’ Blocks Abortion Funding

Nicole Knight

Advocates have urged GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the legislation, saying its provisions are vital to protect reproductive health choices under the Trump administration.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has vowed to veto a pro-choice bill that protects the right to choose and permits Medicaid to cover abortion care, calling the law’s funding provision “controversial.”

HB 40 cleared the state senate Wednesday in a 33-22 vote. Democrats control both legislative chambers, but lack the three-fifths majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

Rauner’s veto pledge represents an about-face from his stance three years ago on the campaign trail. Candidate Rauner expressed “dislike” for state funding restrictions on abortion coverage under the Illinois Medicaid program, writing “I would support a legislative effort to reverse that law,” in a written questionnaire submitted to the pro-choice group Personal PAC and reported in the Chicago Tribune.

While the first-term governor recently described himself as a “strong supporter and protector of women’s reproductive rights,” he also argued that “expanding taxpayer funding is a very divisive issue, it’s a very controversial issue” that distracts from state priorities.

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Advocates have urged Rauner to sign the legislation, saying its provisions are vital to protect reproductive health choices under the Trump administration.

“By removing both the ‘trigger’ language and the discriminatory provisions that restrict Medicaid and State Employee Health Insurance from current Illinois law, House Bill 40 advances critical efforts to ensure that women’s reproductive health care will be protected in Illinois,” said Lorie Chaiten, reproductive rights project director of ACLU of Illinois, in a statement.

Illinois’ “trigger law” would criminalize abortion care in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rauner reportedly tried to strike a deal with the bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), pledging to sign the legislation if she stripped it of the funding provision, as the Windy City Times reported.

Feigenholtz refused.

“The burden of giving millions of women in Illinois these fair and equal rights now rests squarely on the shoulders of Bruce Rauner,” she said.

Rauner has positioned himself as a “pro-choice” Republican. He signed a state law last year requiring religiously affiliated hospitals to tell patients where they can find treatments the institutions refuse to offer on religious grounds. Rauner and his wife have contributed thousands to Planned Parenthood, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Prior to his campaign, the Rauner Family Foundation contributed $510,000 to the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which advocates for reproductive rights, among other causes.

Pro-choice advocates called his flip-flop a “dramatic reversal.”

“It is not too late for Governor Rauner to reconsider his asserted opposition to HB 40. It’s not too late to examine his values, think of the women whose lives could be impacted, and to sign this bill when it gets to his desk,” Chaiten said.

Rainer’s position on HB 40 might amount to political calculus, as Politico reported. About 20 Republican state lawmakers last month delivered an anti-abortion ultimatum in a meeting with Rauner, indicating they’d support his re-election bid if they could count on him to veto HB 40.

“I think that’s a fair proposition,” state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) told Politico. “The social conservatives have not asked for much. We tolerated a lot and this is one thing that we do expect in order to support the governor in the next election.”

Rauner’s defenders argue he has “charted a common-sense path on choice,” and that state Medicaid already pays for abortion care when a person’s health is at risk, which is more generous than federal restrictions in the discriminatory Hyde Amendment.

“You can be pro-choice, support pro-choice policies, and still respect the beliefs of people on the other side who strongly oppose taxpayer funding of abortions,” former Illinois Lt. Gov. Corrine Wood wrote in a recent op-ed.

“Taxpayer-funded abortion” is an anti-choice canard that feeds on widespread ignorance about abortion funding. Two-thirds of the public is unaware the federal Hyde Amendment prohibits paying for abortions with federal Medicaid dollars, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

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