Abortion bill passes Senate, now in Gov. Rauner’s hands

SHARE Abortion bill passes Senate, now in Gov. Rauner’s hands

Gov. Bruce Rauner | Max Herman/Sun-Times file photo

SPRINGFIELD — A bill that would ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois regardless of potential U.S. Supreme Court action and would expand Medicaid funding for the procedures was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner — who has vowed veto it.

The state Senate passed the bill Wednesday, forcing the Republican governor to decide whether to risk angering socially moderate voters by vetoing it or conservatives by signing it.

The Senate voted 33-22 to approve the bill with all 22 Republicans voting against it after a nearly 50-minute debate. The Illinois House passed the measure on April 25 with a 62-55 vote.

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said it will ensure women have access to abortion services should they need them.

“It is time for us … to ensure it and keep it safe here,” Steans said.

Several Republicans voiced their opposition to the bill, and abortion itself: “I don’t know about anybody else but abortion in itself is repulsive,” State Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Moline, said on the Senate floor. “Especially in the elective sense.” He called the use of taxpayer funds an “absolute travesty.”

State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Lake Zurich, said the measure would allow people to treat “abortion as birth control,” and called that “fundamentally abhorrent.”

State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Plainfield, called GOP-resistance to the bill “unbelievably stunning.”

“You have the choice not to do it but don’t take that choice away from somebody who may find themselves in a situation where it is an appropriate choice and one they need to make,” Holmes said.

“Will the sponsor yield because my uterus has a question?” State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, asked shortly before the vote. Hutchinson argued not all anti-abortion arguments factor in the decision making of a low-income mother who may not be able to afford to have another child.

The bill contains language to 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 in any case. 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.

Momentum on the legislation — sponsored in the House by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, and 24 other House Democrats — had been building when Rauner’s administration on April 14 said he wouldn’t support the bill.

Rauner has 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. His administration said he’d veto the bill because of “sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion,” while offering that he’s “committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights under current Illinois law.”

Rauner has the support of Cardinal Blase Cupich, who spoke out against the measure in February while also urging 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.”

The Catholic Conference of Illinois on Wednesday said they are “dismayed” at the bill’s passage: “Public opinion polls regularly show little support for this public policy move. We thank Governor Bruce Rauner for his promise to veto House Bill 40, and we will continue to make our voices heard in the coming days about this troubling legislation,” the group said in a statement.

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 governor’s office also said there was an offer to support the measure if Feigenholtz removed the Medicaid portion of the bill. She said no.

Terry Cosgrove, CEO of the abortion rights group Personal PAC, released a candidate questionnaire from the 2014 governor’s race showing Rauner’s support for pro-choice causes. Cosgrove said it was the first time in 28 years that the organization released such a survey, choosing to do so to show that Rauner “misrepresented” and “lied to voters” about his women’s rights views.

In a statement on the 2014 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.”

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