Gov. Rauner plans to veto abortion-protection, ‘trigger’ bill

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Gov. Bruce Rauner. | Sun-Times files

Despite being a pro-choice Republican, Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to veto a House bill that would remove a “trigger provision” that would make abortions illegal should Roe v. Wade be overturned — and also allow women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions.

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 decision was ever modified.

Momentum on the legislation that wold eliminate that so-called trigger — sponsored by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, and 24 other House Democrats — had been building.

Feigenholtz on Friday said she planned to call her bill for a vote when legislators return from a two-week break on April 25. There’s also an event called the “Illinois Women March on Springfield” planned in the capital that day.

The bill puts Rauner in a sticky spot. Both Rauner and his wife, Diana, have contributed thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood. And the Rauner Family Foundation has contributed $510,000 — prior to his campaign — to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Roger Baldwin Foundation, which aims to protect abortion-rights laws.

He was also labeled as a Republican “with a clear, consistent position on reproductive rights,” according to Personal Choice for Illinois, which placed a newspaper ad in October 2014 to thank Rauner and former Gov. Pat Quinn for their support of reproductive rights. The ad was paid in part by Diana Rauner. It also included a quote from Rauner during the primary debate: “It’s a decision that should be made by a woman with her physician, her family or minister, not by government.”

But the governor’s office on Friday said Rauner doesn’t support the Feigenholtz-sponsored measure and would veto it if it reached his desk.

“Gov. Rauner is committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights under current Illinois law. However, recognizing the sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion, he does not support HB40,” Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement.

In February, Cardinal Blase Cupich spoke out against the measure, while also urging other Democrats to vote against it. In a letter, Cupich urged Catholics to contact elected officials and let them know that “taxpayers should not be forced to fund the taking of human life.”

Catholic groups too, warned, that pro-life advocates would not support the governor should he pass the bill.

Besides repealing the trigger law, the bill would allow the state’s Medicaid recipients to have abortions covered — with the state already paying for abortions for cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

Opponents of the bill said that wouldn’t happen, and argued the addition of the trigger language was a political move.

Feigenholtz on Friday said she had no Republican support on the bill, but noted that Rauner helped to fund the Reproductive Rights Project at the ACLU. She also noted two former Illinois Republican governors supported efforts to help women pay for abortions.

“Two other Republican governors agree that not paying for abortions for poor women who are on insurance, state insurance, whether it be employees of the state or poor women, is unconscionable: George Ryan and Jim Edgar. Both believed it was very discriminatory to not pay for abortions for poor women,” Feigenholtz said.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown on Friday said the speaker planned to vote “yes” on the measure. Brown said the decision appeared to be a way for Rauner to “cozy up to conservatives.”

“I think it suggests the advocates are on the verge of victory and he understands that he’s got to create some support amongst the conservatives because he doesn’t have many places to go to look for support anymore because of things he’s done, because of the budget impasse or other moves he’s made,” Brown said. “So, he’s got to try to cozy up to conservatives. I guess this is one of the way’s he’s trying to do it.”

State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, who opposes the bill said it was being sold as related to Roe v. Wade “but the bill itself would require taxpayer funding for abortions of healthy babies.”

“And that’s something that the broad majority of Illinoisans are against,” Breen said. “To me, the governor’s decision is in accord with what folks in Illinois want.”

The ACLU of Illinois said it is “disappointed and dismayed” at Rauner’s decision.

“This measure – which had strong support in the House of Representatives – is a critical opportunity to support the women of Illinois and fight back against reckless threats emanating from Washington, D.C.,” Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project, said in a statement.

Chaiten said Rauner “can expect to hear from Illinois women who wanted Illinois officials to take action and to speak out forcefully for equality and justice. “

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