In order to keep his coalition of Republican legislators together, Governor Bruce Rauner’s apparently decided to betray his lifelong commitment to reproductive rights and throw the women of Illinois under a bus.
Thanks to his vow to veto a reproductive rights bill known as HB40, abortion—and even some forms of birth control—could one day be illegal in Illinois.
I’d say shame on Rauner, except a governor who could cut, among other things, assistance for autism patients obviously lost his capacity for remorse many years ago.
OK, I’ll calm down long enough to take things point by point, starting with the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975. Passed two years after Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that granted women a constitutional right to abortion—the Illinois law makes it clear that abortion’s legal in Illinois only because the Supreme Court ruled that the state has no choice.
The 1975 bill starts by stating its “intention” to “reasonably regulate abortion . . . without in any way restricting . . . the right of a woman to an abortion.”
But then it goes on to “solemnly declare” that “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person . . . entitled to the right to life . . . under the laws and Constitution of this State.”
Furthermore, it declares that the “longstanding policy of” Illinois to “protect the right to life of the unborn child” by “prohibiting abortion . . . is impermissible only because of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court.”
And, finally, this whopper: “If those decisions of the United States Supreme Court are ever reversed or modified . . . to allow protection of the unborn then the former policy of this State to prohibit abortions unless necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life shall be reinstated.”
In other words, as I explained a few months back, if Roe v. Wade gets reversed, there’s trigger language in the state law that automatically makes most abortions illegal here.
The law could even result in doctors who perform abortions getting prosecuted for murder. Why? Well, let’s go back to the law’s declaration that “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception”—or from the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg.
There’s a long-standing debate among ethicists and doctors as to when life begins. Some say it’s from the instant the sperm fertilizes the egg. Others say it’s when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus. And there are those who say it’s when the child finally gets a job and leaves the house.
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
The point is that the state law establishes human life at fertilization, which means all abortions, even those in the earliest stages of pregnancy, amount to murder.
Moreover, you could take it to extreme—as many antiabortion zealots do—and call certain methods of birth control a form of murder if they prevent a fertilized egg from implantation.
OK, Cook County prosecutors aren’t likely to charge a doctor with murder for performing an abortion or prescribing birth control. But I’m sure there are prosecutors in other, more conservative downstate counties who would relish a chance to play to the antichoice crowd by throwing a doctor or two into jail.
In October, I’d have told you this is all highly unlikely because there was no way that Roe v. Wade would be reversed—not with Hillary Clinton ahead in the polls.
But of course, we all know what happened in that election. President Donald Trump’s already named one Supreme Court justice—Neil Gorsuch. Given the advanced age of some of other justices, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump gets to name another justice. Now, Roe seems a little more precarious.
In January, with an eye to the possibility that Roe might be reversed, Illinois state rep Sara Feigenholtz introduced House Bill 40, which would strike the so-called trigger language, including the line about when life begins, from the 1975 law. It would also give the state the right to use Medicaid funds to pay for abortions for low-income women.
When she filed the bill, Feigenholtz didn’t suspect Rauner would be an opponent. He’d run as a pro-choice Republican. In fact, on the eve of the 2014 gubernatorial election, Diana Rauner, the governor’s wife, helped pay for an ad in the Tribune that declared that “we celebrate the fact that in this election both candidates for Illinois Governor are pro-choice.”
Needing only a simple majority to pass both Democratic-controlled bodies, Feigenholtz was quietly confident her bill would pass.
But in early April, key Republican legislators met with Rauner. According to news accounts, they told him that if he didn’t veto HB40, they might not support him in next year’s election.
On April 14, Governor Rauner announced he planned to veto HB40 if it were to pass the house and senate, on the grounds that it was too controversial.
Think about this, everybody. Going two years without a budget or suggesting that he could save public education by bankrupting it aren’t too controversial for Rauner. But keeping his commitment to reproductive rights is? Man, this dude will do anything to bust the unions.
In any event, I think all of us—from the left or the right—can agree that Rauner’s threatened veto is a sop he’s throwing to his fellow Republicans in the legislature.
Rauner’s reversal has enraged pro-choice activists. Last week, Terry Cosgrove and Marcie Love—the leaders of Personal PAC, the pro-choice lobbying group—released Rauner’s candidate’s questionnaire from 2014 in which he wrote, “I dislike the Illinois law that restricts abortion coverage under the state Medicaid plan . . . I would support a legislative effort to reverse that law.”
Rauner’s walking a tightrope on this one. He wants to convince suburban swing voters that he’s pro-choice while assuring conservative Republicans he’ll veto pro-choice legislation.
As befits a billionaire, it looks as though he’ll try to buy his way out of this predicament. He and his wife recently contributed $50,000 to Planned Parenthood, and they’ll be sponsors of an April 26 fund-raiser for the group.
I realize it’s a contradiction for Rauner to give money to Planned Parenthood while vowing to veto a reproductive rights bill the group supports. Obviously, the governor’s banking on pro-choice voters being dumb enough to let him get away with it. v