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Abortion Access Bill Wins Rauner Praise From Left, Scorn From His Own Party

By Heather Cherone | September 28, 2017 3:12pm | Updated on September 29, 2017 11:41am
"I personally am pro-choice," said Rauner, who did not smile during the 20-minute news conference at the Thompson Center. "I always have been. I believe women have a right to decide what goes on in her own body."
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

THE LOOP — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed a bill designed to keep abortion legal in Illinois should it be threatened federally, while expanding the use of taxpayer money to pay for abortion.

The Illinois Senate approved the measure 33-22. The voting was split along party lines, with all of the opposing votes coming from Republicans.

The bill, authored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Lakeview), was approved by the Illinois House in April on a 62-55 vote, with five Democrats voting no.

During the 2015 campaign, Rauner said he would support such legislation. But this spring he said that he would not sign the bill because he recognized "the sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion."

Rauner told reporters Thursday he made that veto threat as part of an unsuccessful effort to craft a compromise that would separate the two halves of the bill.

"Passions on both sides run strongly," Rauner said. "I deeply respect arguments on both sides."

The bill will override parts of a 1975 law that would ban abortions in Illinois should the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. President Donald Trump had vowed to appoint anti-abortion Supreme Court justices during the campaign.

Had Rauner vetoed the bill and Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortions would have been banned in Illinois even in the case of rape or incest, while abortions could be performed if the mother's life were in danger.

Rauner said he supported that part of the bill wholeheartedly.

"I personally am pro-choice," said Rauner, who did not smile during the 20-minute news conference at the Thompson Center. "I always have been. I believe women have a right to decide what goes on in her own body."

However, Rauner said the "moral argument" against the other part of the bill was "irrefutable."

That provision will allow state medical aid and grants to nonprofits to pay for abortions, miscarriages and premature births.

"No woman should be forced to make a decision about her health purely based on her income," Rauner said.

Rauner acknowledged that he could pay a price with anti-abortion members of his own party, who immediately flooded reporters with statements decrying Rauner's decision.

The governor declined to speculate about whether his move would prompt a Republican to challenge his bid for re-election.

"Politics are politics," Rauner said.

After Rauner's announcement, Cardinal Blase Cupich said on Twitter the measure was "a very disturbing bill [Rauner] once promised to veto.

In June, the Cook Political Report named Rauner as the most vulnerable Republican governor running for re-election in 2018.

After Rauner's news conference, State Rep. Peter Breen, the Republican floor leader, said he could no longer support the governor.

"He looked me in the eye, shook my hand and promised to veto it," Breen said. "He literally lied to Cardinal Cupich."

Rauner's action "calls into question" whether he can be trusted to keep his word, said Breen. 

"For me, this is the end of the Rauner experiment," Breen said, adding that he would consider supporting another Republican for governor.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Rauner's action won praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois as well as Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has long been at odds with the governor, lauded his action.

“Women’s access to quality, affordable health care should always remain above partisan politics," Emanuel said. "The governor’s decision to sign HB40 into law was a significant step forward for women’s health."