GOP lawmakers, anti-abortion groups sue state over abortion law

State Rep. Peter Breen talks to reporters, denouncing HB40 and criticizing Gov. Bruce Rauner for announcing he will sign the abortion legislation at the Thompson Center Thursday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2017. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A group of Republican legislators and anti-abortion groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in Downstate Illinois — dubbing it a “counterattack” on legislation Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in August to expand taxpayer funding of abortions.

The Thomas More Society filed the petition against state of Illinois officials – including Democrats Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, as well as the heads of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Department of Central Management Services. But Rauner — who took much heat over his decision to sign the bill – isn’t named as a defendant.

The suit focuses on what plaintiffs see as potential fiscal challenges the new law would bring “apart from the sincere moral objections that many folks have to paying for abortions,” according to state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, who is also serving as the special counsel to the Thomas More Society.

Breen was among Rauner’s loudest critics after the governor signed the legislation in a decision that shocked many on both sides of the aisle. Breen, who serves as the House Republican Floor Leader, called the governor’s decision a “betrayal.” He also predicted a “groundswell of opposition” against the governor.

“I am being true to my values and my views. I have always been true to those. … I have to make a decision,” Rauner said in announcing his decision. “I have to do what I believe is right for the people of Illinois. And I have to be consistent with my values.”

Flanked by supporters, including former Lt. Gov. Corinnne Wood (right), Gov. Bruce Rauner announces he will sign House Bill 40. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The bill Rauner signed into law ensures abortion remains legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, while also allowing women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions. Opponents of the bill, however, have argued that abortions wouldn’t be made illegal in the state even if Roe was overturned, and the bill was always really about expanding insurance coverage.

The complaint alleges that the state currently performs about 40,000 abortions a year — nearly all paid for by non-state taxpayer sources. But the group believes that under House Bill 40, Illinois taxpayers would have to pay for “20,000 to 30,000 or more” elective abortions per year “at a cost in the tens of millions of dollars,” the suit says.

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The suit claims the General Assembly hasn’t appropriated funds to cover the expenses.

A fiscal note filed by the Department of Healthcare and Family Service estimated the bill’s cost at $1.8 million a year, but opponents of the bill claimed the cost would be far more.

The suit also claims a procedural problem with the effective date of the legislation, arguing it would be made effective in June 1 of next year, instead of Jan. 1.

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, a key Senate sponsor of the bill, said she doesn’t believe the complaint will stand a legal challenge.

Steans said sponsors had relied on an opinion letter from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan regarding the effective date. And she called the entire challenge a way for Republicans, upset with Rauner’s decision, to try “another avenue.”

“The Republicans lost the battle in the Legislature. They lost it with the governor and now they’re trying another avenue. I think it’s doesn’t have a chance of getting anywhere,” Steans said. “It’s just a continuation of trying to turn their backs on women’s rights and the control over their own decisions.”

“Making some claim around a balanced budget. It’s just mind boggling that this is what they’re now focusing on as an argument,” Steans said.

Plaintiffs include state representatives Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake; Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield; Steve Reick, R-Woodstock; Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego; and state senators Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg; Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon; Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods and Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo.

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