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Pritzker vows ‘most progressive state’ on abortion — GOP sees ‘left wing’ agenda

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference at Planned Parenthood of Illinois' Chicago office on Tuesday. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference at Planned Parenthood of Illinois' Chicago office on Tuesday. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed an executive order aimed at ensuring the state is properly enforcing a politically divisive law that allows for the taxpayer funding of abortions — saying he was “concerned” former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration wasn’t “making sure that it was enforced for state government employees.”

The move prompted one Republican legislator to accuse Pritzker of running a “highly-politicized and left wing administration.”

Pritzker signed the executive order at a Planned Parenthood of Illinois office in Chicago, while also commemorating the 46th anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which effectively legalized abortion across the nation. Pritzker said his order will instruct the Illinois Department of Central Management and Services to make sure all state insurance plans are fully compliant with the law by July 1. It also instructs the department to detail coverage for abortions and identify where coverage doesn’t comply with the law.

“This order will make it clear that state employees receiving government funded health insurance have the same rights to control their bodies and make their own healthcare decisions as everyone else in the state,” Pritzker said, while also vowing that Illinois “will be the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to guaranteeing women’s reproductive rights.”

Since taking office last week, the governor has reinstated step raises for state union workers and signed a gun dealer licensing bill — both actions he had vowed during his lengthy campaign and both movements opposed by Rauner’s administration.

Rauner took plenty of political heat for signing House Bill 40 in Sept. 2017. The 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, had 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.

Rauner’s decision to sign the bill angered the state’s conservatives and spawned a primary challenger from former state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, who lost by just 4 percentage points.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said that within the past month, some state employees had received notices that abortion is now covered under their plan.  The group says Rauner’s administration “didn’t really prioritize fully implementing and creating the mechanics for people to be able to easily access abortion through Medicaid.”

“We were concerned and are concerned that the leadership that Gov. Rauner had in place wasn’t in fact making sure that it was enforced for state government employees,” Pritzker said. “And of course more broadly we want to make sure that private and public health insurance coverage included it and that it’s enforced. So we had some indications, but the most important thing is we’re going to make sure that everyone, every woman in state government has the coverage that she deserves.”

The governor’s office on Tuesday afternoon said that advocates of HB40 “cited issues of potential non-compliance ranging from failure to cover ‘elective’ abortion or the abortion pill to failure to cover abortion unless it’s necessary for the health of the woman.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said Pritzker’s executive order shows he’s prioritizing the implementation. It was also something Pritzker had told them he would do during the campaign, ACLU officials said.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, has always opposed HB40. McSweeney said Pritzker has “rubbed HB40 in the face of conservatives by saying he’s actually going to expand it even more.”

“My concern is he claims he wants to be bipartisan but he takes on highly inflammatory issues like taxpayer funding of abortions and expansion … and also the implied threat to opposition of the progressive tax,” McSweeney said. “I don’t see much bipartisanship. It looks like a highly politicized and left-wing administration to me.”