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Abortion bill on Rauner’s desk, question mark on his plans

Gov. Bruce Rauner at a news conference. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A week ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner refused to say whether he would veto or sign a bill designed to ensure abortion remained legal, because it had not been sent to his desk.

The bill finally landed on the governor’s desk on Monday, but Rauner still refused to give any clue what he plans to do.

“There are very strong passions on both sides of the bill,” the governor said while taking questions at Chicago College Charter School. “I want to be respectful, listen and learn with them.”

Asked if he was still committed to vetoing the bill, as he said he would back in April, Rauner said: “We’ll be deciding how we handle it in the very near future.”

The governor has 60 days to take action.

The Democratic sponsors called on him to sign the bill.

“This is his opportunity to stand on the right side of history and send a strong message to women that Illinois will remain a state where you can legally exercise your right to choose,” said state Sen Heather Steans, D-Chicago, chief Senate sponsor of the bill. “House Bill 40 will provide women with the right to choose regardless of their income level, employer or any changes at the federal level.”

But abortion opponents called on the governor to veto the bill

“Feticidal maniacs in Illinois — including lawmakers — are desperate to have Rauner sign this bill into law,” writes Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute. “They reason that since abortion is legal, the public should subsidize it. … Wombs should be sanctuary spaces and no-kill people shelters where all humans are safe. Governor Rauner should kill HB 40.”

Rauner has put himself between a rock and hard place over House Bill 40, which would ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. It would remove a “trigger provision” in Illinois law that would outlaw abortion if the landmark court decision is overturned.

But The bill would also expand insurance coverage of abortion, allowing women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions. And Rauner has said that provision is the deal killer for him.

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In April, Rauner said he didn’t support the bill because of “sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion. ” That prompted the abortion rights organization Personal PAC to release a candidate questionnaire from the 2014 governor’s race showing Rauner’s support for abortion rights — including Medicaid funding.

In the 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.”

But last week, Rauner told reporters he’s “assessing” the bill: “I am meeting with advocates and legislators on both sides, both who support the bill and who are against the bill. And we’re assessing,” Rauner said.

And the governor refused to say which way he is leaning until he sees the bill.

“The bill has not been sent to my desk,” Rauner said, “I think it’s a reasonable question to find out why.”

The legislation puts Rauner in a sticky spot on a controversial issue as he prepares to run for re-election. If he vetoes the bill, he could anger moderate voters who support abortion rights. But if he signs it, he will spark outrage among his conservative base.

Sponsors had been holding the bill back until Monday.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, removed a procedural hold on the bill Monday morning. State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz D-Chicago, followed suit.

“The work of constituents and advocates who have urged the governor to sign this legislation appears to be having some effect, as the governor recently backed away from his promise to veto it,” Harmon said in a news release.

“I believe Gov. Rauner understands that he has made a commitment to support women’s reproductive rights, and I look forward to him signing this bill as it passed the General Assembly.”

Sponsors had been refusing to send the measure to Rauner until he lets them know whether he plans to sign or veto it. The governor, in turn, had said he couldn’t say what he will do until he sees the bill on his desk.

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