Pro-Life Groups Launch Last-Ditch Legal Challenge Against New Ill. Abortion Law

The state’s Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, reneged on an earlier promise to veto the law that will require Illinois taxpayers to pay for thousands of abortions annually.

Illinois Capitol
Illinois Capitol (photo: CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Barring any unexpected legal developments or legislative changes, Illinois taxpayers this year will be paying for thousands of abortions sought by people who receive coverage through Medicaid or the state employees’ group health insurance plan.

Pro-life groups are trying to delay the law’s implementation by arguing over legal technicalities, but long term they estimate that the new law will eventually result in at least 12,000 more taxpayer-funded abortions every year in Illinois.

“If we can put the law off for five months, that would be a good period of time. We’d be talking about 10,000 abortions that wouldn’t be paid for by the people of Illinois,” said state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, who also serves as a special counsel for the Thomas More Society.

Breen told the Register that there are no legal avenues to attack House Bill 40, other than to argue that the law should not go into effect until June 1 because Gov. Bruce Rauner didn’t sign the bill until late September. The law became active Jan. 1, which Breen said violates the Illinois Constitution’s requirement that bills passed after May 31 not take effect until the following June.

Also, Breen argues that the Illinois Legislature did not allocate funds for the bill as required by the state constitution’s balanced-budget requirement.

Breen made his arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Thomas More Society in late November on behalf of taxpayers, state legislators, several pro-life organizations and the Diocese of Springfield. However, on Dec. 28, a state judge declined the Thomas More Society’s request for an emergency injunction against the law. Breen said he has filed for an expedited appeal.

“This is the only recourse we have,” Breen said.


Rauner’s Reversal

This year, Illinois will become only one of 17 states to pay for elective abortions for Medicaid recipients because Rauner broke a public promise that he would veto H.B. 40, angering Republican state legislators, pro-life groups and the state’s Catholic bishops.

In a late September interview with the Chicago Tribune, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said Rauner broke his word “to the people, especially those who have continued to speak on behalf of the vulnerable child in the womb.” The Catholic Conference of Illinois released a statement saying that the state’s bishops were “deeply disturbed” by the governor’s reversal.

Rauner, a moderate Republican who has long supported abortion rights, said he had no social agenda when he ran for governor in 2014. Last April, however, during budget negotiations with state Democrats, Rauner called H.B. 40 “divisive” and threatened to veto it.

But over the ensuing months, Rauner was subject to an intensive lobbying campaign from both sides. Senate Democrats delayed passing H.B. 40 for months until right before the governor signed it. In explaining his decision, Rauner said at a news conference in September that he used his veto threat to try to broker a compromise between pro-life leaders and abortion-rights advocates.

“We were unable to do that. The passions run too deep,” said Rauner, who in 2014 had also promised abortion-rights groups that he would support a legislative effort to reverse the Illinois law that restricted abortion coverage under the state Medicaid plan and state employees’ health insurance. Rauner then wrote he thought the law “unfairly restricts access based on income,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Rauner may have been trying to appeal to socially moderate voters, an important demographic for Republicans in statewide races in Illinois, but his decision not to veto H.B. 40 has alienated many voters and lawmakers within his own party and emboldened a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican who is a plaintiff in the Thomas More Society lawsuit.


Political Payback

Ralph Rivera, a state lobbyist and legislative chairman for Illinois Right to Life Action, told the Register that Rauner is seen as a “dead man walking” by many Illinois Republicans and pro-life officials.

“It doesn’t matter if he wins the primary or not. He will lose the general election because he just will not have the votes,” said Rivera, who added that conservative voters were critical to Rauner’s victory in 2014. Rivera believes many of those voters will not support Rauner’s re-election bid in 2018.

“He will not get those votes,” Rivera said.

“You’ve seen a real division within the Republican ranks,” said Breen, who vowed that Illinois state legislators will soon begin pushing for a state-level version of the Hyde Amendment, an annual budget provision in Congress that prohibits federal tax dollars from being spent on abortion.

“There is no reason in Illinois that we couldn’t do the same thing,” said Breen, adding that Illinois has run up billions of dollars in unpaid bills and a deficit of more than $6 billion.

Said Breen, “There is no reason why we should be putting money aside for elective abortions every year when we don’t have any money.”

In addition to expanding state taxpayer dollars for abortion, H.B. 40 removes a so-called trigger provision in state law that some pro-abortion groups said would have made abortion illegal again in Illinois if Roe v. Wade were to ever be overturned. Roe v. Wade is the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared abortion to be a constitutional right in the United States.

Rivera said the trigger provision was a moot point, given that the Illinois Legislature in the early 1970s had already repealed the old state law banning abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade.


‘Terrible Decision’

Breen called the trigger-provision discussion a “red herring” intended to distract from the real debate over expanded abortion coverage.

“Now that the law is signed and gone into effect, everybody is talking about the taxpayer funding of abortions,” said Breen, adding that his goal is now to delay the law’s implementation, indefinitely.

“We’re going to push the lawsuit as far as we have to, as fast as we can,” Breen said. “And for those of us in the legislature, we are going to press every year until we are able to reverse this terrible decision.”

Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.