More than 40 years ago, the Illinois General Assembly went along only grudgingly with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, in Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban all abortions.
Illinois lawmakers made abortions legal but stuck a caveat in the legislation that still stands today. If the High Court’s decision is reversed or the U.S. Constitution is changed, the law says, “the former policy of this State to prohibit abortions unless necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life shall be reinstated.”
Today, anti-abortion groups question whether this so-called “trigger provision” would be enforceable. The notion that most abortions in Illinois instantly would become illegal if Roe v. Wade were overturned, they say, is false. But the intent of the Legislature all those years ago remains clear.
We urge the Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner to remove all doubt about the legal availability of safe abortions in Illinois in a post-Roe v. Wade America by eliminating the trigger provision, as called for in a bill sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D- Chicago. The governor has vowed to veto the bill, which contradicts an explicit promise he made while campaigning for office.
Abortion rights and Roe v. Wade increasingly are under assault in America. States are imposing ever stricter limitations on abortions. President Donald Trump recently signed a law that allows states to withhold federal funds from agencies that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood.
Our view remains that a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion must be protected, and that right that should not be limited to those who have the money or the right insurance plan. We praised the court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade at the time, on Jan. 26, 1973, calling it “a sane national policy” that should be followed with “dispatch.” There can be no going back.
Feigenholtz’s bill, appropriately, also would allow women who are state workers and those on Medicaid to receive coverage for abortions. Currently, women on Medicaid have coverage only in cases of rape, incest and to protect the health of the mother. State workers have coverage for abortions only to save a mother’s life.
But this is where matters get politically difficult for Rauner. As a candidate three years ago, he expressed strong pro-choice views, albeit in a questionnaire not intended to be made public. As a candidate for re-election now, he must surely be worried about not offending a big part of his anti-abortion conservative base.
And so the governor is trying to thread a needle. He continues to say he is pro-choice, in so many words, but he also says he will veto Feigenholtz’s bill, should it make it to his desk, because he does not sense a strong enough public consensus.
“Governor Rauner is committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights under current Illinois law,” his office said in a statement last week. “However, recognizing the sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion, he does not support” the bill.
In a way, we sympathize with the man. The politics of this bill are miserable for him, and you can bet that plenty of Democrats support the legislation not because they are strongly pro-choice but because they are strongly anti-Rauner. Raw politics is driving this debate.
But that in no way changes the merits of the case. This is an important bill, extending access to a legal medical procedure to all women in Illinois and getting rid of the trigger provision. It didn’t belong in the bill way back in 1975 and certainly doesn’t belong today.
We urge the governor to put his principles first and support it.
Three years ago, as a candidate, Rauner clearly supported abortion coverage for state employees and those on Medicaid in a questionnaire he filled out for Personal PAC, which backs candidates who support a woman’s right to choose. Personal PAC doesn’t usually release questionnaires publicly, CEO Terry Cosgrove said, but gave out Rauner’s to point out his flip-flop.
Rauner wrote in his questionnaire: “I dislike the Illinois law that restricts abortion coverage under the state Medicaid plan and state employees’ health insurance because I believe it unfairly restricts access based on income. I would support a legislative effort to reverse that law.”
Asked on the questionnaire whether he would sign a bill to eliminate the trigger provision and allow recipients of Medicaid and state-sponsored health insurance to receive coverage for abortion services, the governor checked “yes.”
The governor and his wife, Diana, have contributed generously to Planned Parenthood. And when we asked the governor 10 weeks ago, during a meeting with the Editorial Board, if he considered himself to be “pro-choice,” he replied, “I have publicly said I believe it’s a decision that’s best made by a woman and her physician.”
A note attached to the bill by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services says taxpayers would be on the hook for $1.8 million for coverage of abortion services to state employees and women on Medicaid. But when Feigenholtz proposed a similar bill two years ago, a similar note — after adjustment — said there would be “zero cost” for taxpayers.
The reality is that an abortion typically costs a fraction of a full-term pregnancy and hospital delivery. On the whole, taxpayers would not lose money.
This, of course, is not really a debate about how to spend taxpayer money. It is a debate, sincere and passionate, about what is moral and right. And on that score, we agree with Gov. Rauner: Abortion really is a decision “that’s best made by a woman and her physician.”
Feigenholtz’s bill advances and protects that worthy principle, and the Legislature and the governor should support it.
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