Illinois Governor Makes ‘Dramatic Reversal’ on Protecting Abortion Access

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) now plans to veto a pro-choice bill—even though he has donated to Planned Parenthood and claimed to support reproductive rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife have contributed thousands to Planned Parenthood, but the Republican now plans to veto pro-choice legislation. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner on the 2013 campaign trail claimed he was pro-choice. The first-term governor and his wife are listed as $50,000 sponsors of a Planned Parenthood of Illinois fundraiser next week.

But last week Rauner may have shown his true colors, indicating that he intends to veto pro-choice legislation protecting the right to choose and permitting coverage of abortion in state health plans and Medicaid.

The controversial decision amounts to a “dramatic reversal” on reproductive rights, according to some advocates in the state.

“Last week, Governor Rauner let us know his true stance on reproductive rights,” Susan Musich, board chair of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said in an email to Rewire, referring to his vow to veto the pro-choice bill.

The sponsor of HB 40, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), said she intends to call for a vote on the legislation April 25, when lawmakers return from recess, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The date coincides with a planned “Illinois Women March on Springfield” in the state capital.

HB 40 includes provisions to strike down an existing Illinois “trigger law” that would outlaw abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bill expands insurance coverage of abortions in Medicaid and in state health plans. Right now, state Medicaid, the health-care plan for people with low incomes, covers abortions only in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Democrats control both of the state’s legislative chambers, but lack the necessary three-fifths majority needed to override a veto by the governor.

Rauner spokesperson Eleni Demertzis told Rewire the governor is “committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights,” but he recognizes “the sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion” and “does not support HB 40.”

“Taxpayer-funded abortion” is an anti-choice canard that feeds on widespread ignorance about abortion funding. Two-thirds of the public is unaware the federal Hyde Amendment prohibits paying for abortions with federal Medicaid dollars, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll conducted before the 2016 presidential election suggested a partisan divide over the funding ban, with 57 percent of Hillary Clinton voters in favor of doing away with the Hyde Amendment, compared to 36 percent of all likely voters who supported an end to the ban.

Politico reported about 20 Republican state lawmakers recently met with Rauner, indicating they’d support his re-election bid if they could count on him to veto HB 40.

“I think that’s a fair proposition,” state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) told Politico. “The social conservatives have not asked for much. We tolerated a lot and this is one thing that we do expect in order to support the governor in the next election.”

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) described the political calculus differently, saying, “[Rauner] would do well to not get it on his desk,” referring to HB 40.

Reproductive rights advocates contend Rauner’s support is needed now more than ever. The GOP-led U.S. Congress and Trump administration have moved to hamper Title X funding for health-care clinics in states like Illinois, and they have vowed to prevent Medicaid patients from getting health care at Planned Parenthood.

“The uncertainty of reproductive health care policies in Washington D.C. means that we must ensure there are protections in place at the state level,” Planned Parenthood’s Musich said. “Governor Rauner needs to stand with all Illinois women, not just some!”

Rauner last year signed a state law requiring religiously affiliated hospitals to tell patients where they can find treatments that the institutions refuse to offer on religious grounds. And Rauner and his wife have contributed thousands to Planned Parenthood, as the Sun-Times reported. Prior to his campaign, the Rauner Family Foundation contributed $510,000 to the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which advocates for reproductive rights, among other causes.

Rauner in 2013 suggested he supports some restrictions on abortion, such as parental notification laws and limits on later terminations. He told Crain’s Chicago Business, “I also am an advocate for finding common ground to make abortion rare.”

Illinois is one of 22 states advancing a total of 56 pro-choice measures this legislative session, according to the ACLU of Illinois. HB 40 is one of those measures.

“The Governor can expect to hear from Illinois women who wanted Illinois officials to take action and to speak out forcefully for equality and justice,” Lorie Chaiten, reproductive rights project director for the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. “He should stand with women and to secure essential rights that will protect lives and health.”