Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday denied he’s a flip-flopper on abortion rights — while saying the expansion of abortion coverage under Medicaid is too “divisive” and “controversial” to deal with in light of the state’s fiscal problems.
Rauner — who was promoted as a pro-choice Republican candidate in the 2014 gubernatorial election — has been under fire for saying that he planned to veto a House bill that would remove a “trigger provision” that would make abortions illegal should Roe v. Wade be overturned — and would also allow women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions.
Rauner’s administration said he didn’t support the bill because of “sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion.”
“What we should not do is take on controversial, divisive issues right now when we don’t have a balanced budget, when we do not have proper school funding, when we do not have economic growth and job creation,” Rauner said on Friday after the Chicago Business Opportunity Fair.
“We should not take on divisive, controversial issues and expanding taxpayer funding [of abortion] is a controversial, divisive issue.”
Rauner said the state should “protect existing Illinois law,” but also focus on jobs, reducing property taxes, education funding and getting term limits for elected officials.
“These are difficult issues we need to focus on,” Rauner said.
The governor was first asked whether he had flip flopped on his stance on abortion rights. The abortion rights group Personal PAC on Wednesday blasted the governor and the first lady for what they said was a misrepresentation and lie to voters in 2014 when he signed a candidate questionnaire showing support for their causes.
In the questionnaire, Rauner wrote: “I dislike the Illinois law that restricts abortion coverage under the state Medicaid plan and state employees’ health insurance because I believe it unfairly restricts access based on income. I would support a legislative effort to reverse that law.”
It’s an issue pro-choice advocates say will rear its head in next year’s gubernatorial election.
“I have always been and always will be a strong supporter and protector of women’s reproductive rights. Always have been and always will be. We in Illinois have good existing law. I always have and I always will support existing Illinois law. We need to protect women’s reproductive health in the state of Illinois and we need to protect existing Illinois law,” Rauner said.
The state already pays for abortions for cases of rape, incest, to protect the health of the mother and to save the life of the mother. But the new measure seeks to include all abortions.
Momentum on the legislation — sponsored by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, and 24 other House Democrats — had been building when Rauner declared last week that he wouldn’t support the bill. But Feigenholtz said she still plans to try to call the bill for a vote next week when legislators return from a two-week break.
Abortion rights advocates say the trigger language is needed to keep abortions legal in Illinois. Before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion in Illinois was illegal unless a mother’s life was at stake. A law was passed in 1975 that said Illinois would make abortions illegal again if the Supreme Court decision was ever modified.
But the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services contends abortions won’t be outlawed even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The department says the pre-Roe statute that prohibited performance of abortion procedures was invalidated in a 1973 case and was repealed.
The department says the current trigger language “only amounts to a policy statement because it has no operative provisions and does not authorize punishment.”