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Rauner Riles Abortion Rights Supporters Over Proposed Bill

By  Ariel Cheung and Heather Cherone | April 14, 2017 5:22pm | Updated on April 17, 2017 8:31am

 Rauner attends ground breaking for the By The Hand Club building in Austin.
Rauner attends ground breaking for the By The Hand Club building in Austin.
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DNAinfo/Mauricio Pena

LAKEVIEW — A bill that supporters say would keep abortion legal in Illinois should it be threatened federally but that critics say broadens the use of taxpayer money to pay for them is opposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The bill, introduced in January by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), is still working its way through the Legislature, but Rauner has signaled that should it land on his desk, he would veto the legislation.

"Governor Rauner is committed to protecting women's reproductive rights under current Illinois law," spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said. "However, recognizing the sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion, he does not support" the bill.

Rauner's opposition riled supporters of the bill, with Feigenholtz deriding the governor as a "flip-flopper" who lied about supporting abortion rights to win votes.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who spoke up about her own abortion in support of the bill, also slammed the governor Friday.

"He's made it clear he prefers campaigning to governing, regardless of who runs," Cassidy said in an email. "As for this most recent statement, for a guy who claimed to not have a social agenda, this seems awfully like a social agenda."

The bill seeks to remove portions of a 1975 law that would ban abortions in Illinois should the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion — a possibility under the presidency of Donald Trump.

The so-called "trigger provision" would not allow exceptions in the case of rape or incest, although abortions could be performed if the mother's life were in danger. While the law has long been in place, a murky question remains on whether new legislation would have to be passed to actually outlaw abortion in the state.

Feigenholtz's bill would render a fetus no longer a legal person with a right to life from the time of conception, while also allowing state medical aid and grants to nonprofits to pay for abortions, miscarriages and premature births.

Illinois state Representatives Sara Feigenholtz and Kelly Cassidy. [DNAinfo]

It is the use of public money that Rauner opposes, according to his office. His stance as an anti-abortion Republican remains intact, with passage of past legislation standing as proof of his support, they said.

In an op-ed published by the Tribune in March, anti-abortion attorney and activist Anna Paprocki said Illinois taxpayers already pay for abortions for women covered by Medicaid who are raped or whose lives are at risk. But Feigenholtz's bill "would force taxpayers to pay for abortions through Medicaid, and for state employees for any reason — including abortions based on a child's disability or sex, for any reason at all."

Feigenholtz said Rauner's position runs contrary to statements Rauner made during his 2014 campaign for governor.

During the campaign, Rauner attended an abortion rights gala in May 2014 which listed his wife Diana as a co-host. A statement issued by the campaign at the time said, "Bruce has always said he believes this issue is best left between a woman and her doctor and family, not the government.”

Feigenholtz said that preventing women from using Medicaid for abortion amounts to limiting their ability to choose.

Fifteen other states provide such financial aid, said Feigenholtz, who represents Lakeview, Lincoln Park and Near North Side.

Rauner sided with Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who wrote a letter in February denouncing the bill.

"Taxpayers should not be forced to fund the taking of human life," Cupich wrote. "In fact, tax money should be used to fund prenatal services for the poor and child care for working mothers, as well as expand health-care options for those in need."

Feigenholtz said she will continue to fight to get her bill passed, despite Rauner's opposition.

"Unlike the governor, I will not abandon Illinois women," Feigenholtz said. "I am going to do my best to continue to push for this, because Illinois women deserve to have legal access to abortion."