Anti-Choice Groups Rebuked Again in Legal Challenge to Landmark Illinois Abortion Law (Updated)

Last year's pro-choice bill, signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), enjoyed widespread support among Illinois voters.

HB40 takes out so-called personhood language from the Illinois Abortion Act and permits coverage of abortion care in state health plans and Medicaid. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

UPDATE, September 19, 2:27 p.m.: The Thomas More Society in a statement to Rewire.News said they plan to challenge HB40 before the state supreme court. The deadline to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court is October 22.

A state appeals court in Illinois has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that tried to overturn a 2017 law expanding state funding of abortion services.

The three-judge appellate court ruled unanimously that a county judge correctly dismissed the lawsuit filed by the conservative law firm Thomas More Society and anti-choice groups last November in an effort to block legislation expanding state-funded coverage of abortions for Medicaid recipients and state workers.

Signed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner last fall, HB 40 strikes down provisions of an Illinois “trigger law,” which would outlaw abortion care if Roe v. Wade is overturned. It takes out so-called personhood language from the Illinois Abortion Act that said an “unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person,” and permits coverage of abortion in state health plans and Medicaid. State law had prohibited public insurance coverage of abortion care, induced miscarriage, or “induced premature birth” except in limited circumstances, as reported by Rewire.News.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Peter Breen, a state representative, was a lead attorney representing the anti-choice petitioners. The lawsuit claimed lawmakers passed the measure too late in 2017 for it to take effect January 1, that they didn’t appropriate the funding required, and that the law promoted taxpayer-funded abortion services.

“Taxpayer-funded abortion” is a myth pedaled by abortion-rights foes that feeds on public 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 Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The Thomas More Society and Breen did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Sam McCann (R), a gubernatorial Conservative Party candidate, has filed a bill to repeal the pro-choice law that he called “immoral” and “abominable,” the State Journal-Register reportedDemocratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, who has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood in Illinois, supports the new law.

Rauner called the insurance provision “very controversial,” in apparent reversal of his support for abortion access as a gubernatorial candidate. He later said he would “support a legislative effort to reverse that law.”

An April 2017 poll showed widespread support among Illinois voters for Rauner to “act to protect the reproductive health care of all women in Illinois.”

“I personally am pro-choice, I always have been,” Rauner said last year. “I personally believe a woman should have, must have, the right to decide what goes on in her own body. I also believe that no woman should be forced to make a different decision than another woman could make purely based on her income.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois supported the law as “a critical victory for women’s health and equality,” and said in a statement the bill “is not about politics; it is about advancing health, economic security, and dignity.”

“We applaud the court’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit. We don’t think there is a basis to this lawsuit and we look forward to continuing to see House Bill 40 be implemented in Illinois for the benefit of the people of our state,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the Illinois ACLU’s Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project.