A bill to expand abortion coverage and ensure that it remains legal in Illinois was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk Monday, amid uncertainty from even the governor himself over whether he plans to sign it.
While House Bill 40 passed the Democrat-controlled legislature in May, the legislation’s sponsors refrained from sending it to the Republican governor after he said he would not support it – a direct contradiction of his stance while running for office in 2014.
If signed into law, the measure would allow the state to cover abortions for its employees and Medicaid recipients, as well as protect access to abortion in Illinois should the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing it be overturned.
Rauner’s decision will likely have major political implications, as the first-term governor looks to placate his conservative base without alienating moderate, largely suburban female voters ahead of his upcoming bid for re-election.
While campaigning without a social agenda, Rauner said in 2014 that he would back efforts to change state law against taxpayer-funded abortion because it "unfairly restricts access based on income."
However, just days before the House passed HB 40 in April, the governor signaled that he would not support the measure on the basis that it's "very controversial," saying Illinois should focus on other issues like reducing property taxes, lawmaker term limits and other elements of his so-called "turnaround agenda."
That reversal angered the bill’s proponents and offered Democrats the opportunity to capitalize on a flip-flop from Rauner, who was already seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in the nation.
Rauner’s new stance also gave conservatives an avenue in which they could hold him accountable – though they, like abortion rights advocates, are now unsure of what he may do.
"On April 14, Gov. Rauner promised Illinois citizens that he would veto HB 40, which would expand state funding for abortions. I sure hope that Gov. Rauner actually keeps this promise," said State Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills.
Democrats echoed both that uncertainty as well as the feeling of obligation Monday, after the bill’s sponsor lifted a procedural hold on the measure to send it to the governor’s desk.
"Bruce Rauner has heard from advocates across the state of Illinois," chief House sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, of Chicago’s North Side, said in a statement. "They have told him to sign HB 40, and fulfill his promise. He should put politics aside and do the right thing."
The governor himself did not appear to know what he planned to do either on Monday, saying that he would decide how to handle it "in the near future."
"I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve been doing and that is listening to advocates all across the state of Illinois and also meeting with legislators about it," he said while taking questions during an appearance at a school in Chicago.
"There are very strong passions on both sides of the bill. I want to be respectful and listen and learn with them and then we’ll be deciding where to go from there," he added.
Rauner has a 60-day window to act on the bill, meaning he must make a decision just before candidates are required to file nominating petitions to run in the March 2018 primary.