SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House on Tuesday passed a controversial measure that would ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois regardless of potential U.S. Supreme Court action and would expand Medicaid-funded abortions — a bill that could have political ramifications for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner should he follow through with a vowed veto.
After nearly two hours of debate, the House approved the bill 62-55 with no Republican support. Five Democrats voted against it.
The vote came as hundreds of women gathered outside the Capitol for a march and rally — in part to build momentum for the measure. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton told the crowd he’s prepared to try to pass the bill in the Senate, and also override Rauner’s veto if necessary.
The political overtones and timing of the measure are clear.
With the gubernatorial primary 11 months away, Rauner, who has proclaimed himself to be pro-choice, may be forced to carry through on his threat to veto the measure, which may alienate some voters who support abortion rights.
Rauner’s administration on Tuesday said the governor would have supported a measure designed solely to protect abortion rights from Supreme court action — arguing the administration doesn’t support expanding taxpayer funding for “elective procedures.”
But Democratic sponsors say it’s not a political move to bust the governor and more about protecting women’s reproductive rights in the state in the President Donald Trump era.
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.
During the debate, some Republicans argued the measure would cost the state, and expansion of Medicaid services isn’t necessary. Some voted no for ideological reasons.
State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, argued that expanding Medicaid coverage for abortions would cost the state millions.
“Where should that money come from? Should it come from cancer screenings … will it come from necessary surgeries?” Breen asked.
Breen said the trigger language in the bill is “clouding the debate,” and that if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, abortion still would not be illegal in the state.
“It is in the word of today, fake news. It’s a smokescreen,” Breen said. “The entire purpose of this bill is to bring more money, millions of dollars from the Illinois State treasury to the abortion industry.”
Others said they were religious, but felt they needed to support the bill to help low-income women get safe and accessible abortion services.
“I am offended that my faith has been questioned on this floor because I support a women’s right to choose,” State Rep. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, said during the debate. “It is not my place to make a decision for another. That decision must be between that person and their family and their God.”
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, read Rauner’s own words in support of expanding abortion coverage for low-income women from a 2014 candidate questionnaire on the House floor: “I think he was right then.”
As the debate stretched into its second hour, Democratic gubernatorial candidates spoke at the women’s rally — J.B. Pritzker wearing a button that read “The future is female.” Candidates Chris Kennedy, State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar and Madison County schools superintendent Bob Daiber spoke at the rally. Rauner’s opponents have used his position on the bill as fodder for criticism.
“This demonstration, this collective action, is the best of America,” Kennedy said. “You are part of what makes America great.”
Momentum on the legislation — sponsored 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.”
The state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services also 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.
“It is important. They are both important and they should be cast together. And it’s just a red herring what they’re doing,” Feigenholtz said about the governor’s office’s request.
After the vote, the Illinois Republican Party called the measure “radical” and one that doesn’t address the needs of the state’s residents.
“Instead of working to solve our state’s catastrophic challenges, Madigan Democrats just passed a radical bill for taxpayer funded abortions, at a cost of $60 million, while we don’t have a budget,” Illinois Republican Party National Committeewoman Demetra Demonte said in a statement. “Springfield yet again shows it’s tone-deaf to the concerns of Illinoisans.”
The abortion rights group Personal PAC branded Rauner a liar for opposing the measure. The same group on Monday night released a video full of duct tape references — an ode to a statewide ad promoting Rauner last month — while urging the governor to “stick to his word” about his pro-choice views.
“We’re taking duct tape to Springfield to tell Bruce Rauner to stick to his promise to defend women’s health,” state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, says in the video.
“Bruce Rauner, stick to your word,” Feigenholtz says while holding up a roll of tape.
The video ends with a picture of Rauner from his own ad — with duct tape covering his mouth.
Last week, Terry Cosgrove, CEO of Personal PAC, released a candidate questionnaire from the 2014 governor’s race showing Rauner’s support for pro-choice causes. He 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.”
Rauner’s administration, in turn, on Tuesday released a video featuring prominent women in the administration, including Deputy Gov. Leslie Munger, speaking of the governor’s support of women’s and family issues.