Illinois Abortion Law Anniversary Falls on Day of Kavanaugh Vote

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of a bill that in part keeps abortion legal in Illinois, the same day a U.S. Senate committee moved forward with the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh - whose confirmation abortion-rights advocates have said could result in the repeal of federal protections for abortion.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 40 on Sept. 28, 2017, after weeks of deliberating on the measure under intense political pressure.

The law has two main components: expanding insurance programs for state employees and Medicaid recipients to include coverage for abortion, and ensuring that abortion would remain legal in Illinois should Roe v. Wade - the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing it - be overturned. The law does that by repealing language in Illinois' 1975 law that would criminalize abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The bill's chief sponsor, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, marked the anniversary Friday in a statement pointing to both Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump.

"After repeated threats from Supreme Court nominees like Brett Kavanaugh and President Trump himself to strip abortion rights away from women, this legislation is necessary to safeguard a woman's right to make decisions that affect her personal health in Illinois," said Feigenholtz, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago's North Side.

Trump tapped Kavanaugh to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat in July after Kennedy - often a swing vote - announced his retirement, bringing abortion rights into focus as Trump's nominee could give the split court an anti-abortion majority.

Trump said during a presidential debate in 2016 that he is "pro-life" and planned to appoint justices that hold the same view, though Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, has a relatively thin record of legal decisions on the issue.

Advocates have pointed to his 2017 decision that a federal shelter did not have to facilitate an abortion for a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant, who was taken into custody after entering the U.S. illegally, so long as the facility secure an adult sponsor for the girl and "expeditiously" release her to the sponsor's custody.

Kavanaugh has also praised Justice William Rehnquist's dissent in Roe v. Wade, saying in a 2017 lecture that although "Rehnquist was not successful in convincing a majority of the justices in the context of abortion," he had succeeded in "stemming the general tide of freewheeling judicial creation of unenumerated rights that were not rooted in the nation’s history and tradition."

Both of those issues came up in Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, where he refrained from sharing his personal view on abortion and called the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling "precedent."

On Friday, the Senate Judiciary committee voted in dramatic fashion to send Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate, with GOP Sen. Jeff Flake calling for a one-week delay before a floor vote in order to allow the FBI to investigate an allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.

Regardless of what happens at the federal level, Feigenholtz said Friday, "Illinois has made a strong affirmative statement: access to safe legal abortion will remain protected in Illinois."

In the year since it was signed into law, House Bill 40 has also played a pivotal role in the race for Illinois governor. Rauner, a Republican who was elected in 2014, saying at the time that he had "no social agenda," drew a GOP primary challenger based in part on his approval of House Bill 40.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives jumped into the race, accusing Rauner of lying to Cardinal Blase Cupich amid the negotiations on the bill and claiming he "sure did have an agenda... a socially progressive agenda."

With far more name recognition and funding, Rauner won the March primary by a 3-point margin, coming stunningly close to being ousted by members of his own party.

But that victory didn't result in a Republican coalescence, as state Sen. Sam McCann launched a campaign for governor under the Conservative Party label, angered by House Bill 40 in the same vein as Ives.

At the first televised forum of all the candidates for governor, McCann took aim at Rauner over the measure, calling himself, "about the most pro-life person you'll ever meet and very proud of that."

"I think it's reprehensible that the taxpayers of Illinois are required to pay for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand," McCann continued. "I’ve even had pro-choice constituents come to me and say that," he added, later calling Rauner a "liar."

"You've been lying to the people of Illinois from the very beginning," McCann said. "You said you would have no social agenda and all you've been able to accomplish is to make yourself the most progressive, liberal governor the state of Illinois has ever had. You're a liar and a thief."

For his part, in signing the bill in 2017, Rauner said he understood that abortion is a "very emotional issue" with passionate opinions on both sides.

"But, as I have always said, I believe a woman should have the right to make that choice herself and I do not believe that choice should be determined by income," he said in a statement at the time announcing his decision. "I do not think it’s fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have. That is why I am signing HB40."

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