Flanked by supporters, Gov. Bruce Rauner announces he will sign abortion legislation HB40. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed into law a controversial abortion bill — expanding insurance coverage for the procedure and seeking to ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

The governor signed the bill minutes after announcing his long-awaited decision on the deeply divisive issue.  His action drew praise from abortion rights supporters and damning indictments from abortion opponents — with one leading GOP legislator saying he no longer supports the governor.

The governor acknowledged  the divide but said he sought to make a decision “consistent with my views”

“I personally am pro-choice. I always have been,” Rauner told reporters. “A woman should have the right to decide.”

Flanked by supporters, including Former Lt. Gov. Corinnne Wood (right), Gov. Bruce Rauner announces he will sign abortion legislation HB40. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The governor said he spoke to people on both sides of the issue and sought to find “common ground” between abortion rights supporters and those who want the procedure outlawed.

“We were unable to do that,” Rauner said. “The passions run too deep. As a result, today I am announcing that I am signing House Bill 40.”

Rauner made the announcement at a Thompson Center news conference, flanked by women, including former Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, an abortion rights supporter who has battled breast cancer.

“I’m here as someone who has been fighting for women’s health issues for decades, and not just women’s health issue across the board but also women’s reproductive health issues,” Wood said. “And I can tell you it is a challenging issue, and that is why today is so important. Because we have a governor who is standing up for the right thing for all the women of Illinois.”

Former Lt. Gov. Corinnne Wood speaks at Thursday’s news conference. Sun-Times Media.

“He’s standing up for women’s health. He’s standing up to putting an end to this partisan bickering.”

The governor has given mixed signals on what he plans to do on the bill, and that was reflected in the reaction to his final decision.

Cardinal Blase Cupich tweeted that “Gov. Rauner has signed into law a very disturbing bill he once promised to veto.”

Rauner’s own lieutenant governor issued a statement saying “as a pro-life Republican” she disagrees with the governor’s decision.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for a 15-year-old refugee who chose to have me and keep me,” Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti said. “I realize this bill is a political ploy to divide the people of Illinois. While I disagree with the Governor on this, we must focus on our areas of agreement – enacting real reforms we need to turn Illinois around.”

The bill’s chief House sponsor, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz issued a statement that was far from congratulatory.

“I am grateful that Governor Rauner has finally realized how important this legislation is to women in the current political climate,” the North Side Democrat said. “Governor Rauner has decided to stick to his original promise, and his decision will help ensure women continue to have access to all reproductive care.”

First lady Diana Rauner smiles and applauds from the back of the room as Gov. Bruce Rauner announces he will sign abortion legislation HB40. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Republican abortion opponents were even harsher.

House Republican Floor Leader Peter issued a scathing statement, saying he can no longer support the governor because of his failure to stand up to Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan, “badly botch negotiations with the General Assembly on a variety of subjects” and now ‘flat out lies.”

“I’ve heard Rauner promise the people of Illinois that he had ‘no social agenda’ and as such firmly commit to legislators, the public, and even to Chicago’s Cardinal, Blaise Cupich, that he would veto taxpayer funding of abortions,” Breen said.

“But he has now broken that commitment, signing a bill that puts taxpayers on the hook to pay for an expected 20,000-30,000 aborted lives per year. … Now, I’ve come to expect politicians to shade the truth, but what’s clear today is that Rauner’s promises were just flat out lies.”

State Rep. David McSweeney echoed that sentiment.

“Bruce Rauner is a failed Governor who lied to the people of Illinois,” the Barrington Hills Republican said. “On April 14th, he announced that he would veto HB 40. Rauner looked the other way on the 32% increase in the income tax rate, made Illinois a sanctuary state and is primarily responsible for Illinois’ $16 billion backlog of unpaid bills.”

A source who has close knowledge of the legislation said the governor made his final decision Thursday to sign the bill.

The governor participated in meetings with prominent Republicans on Wednesday, but told them they he had not yet made a decision. First lady Diana Rauner was involved in those meetings, the source said.

The governor was sent HB40 on Monday. In April he said he didn’t support one of two parts of the measure and would issue an amendatory veto. But last week Rauner said he was “assessing” the measure and speaking with both proponents and opponents.

Rauner has put himself between a rock and hard place over House Bill 40, which would ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. It would remove a “trigger provision” in Illinois law that would outlaw abortion if the landmark court decision is overturned.

But The bill would also expand insurance coverage of abortion, allowing women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions. And Rauner has said that provision is the deal killer for him.

In April, Rauner said he didn’t support the bill because of “sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion. ” That prompted the abortion rights organization Personal PAC to release a candidate questionnaire from the 2014 governor’s raceshowing Rauner’s support for abortion rights — including Medicaid funding.

In the questionnaire, Rauner wrote: “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.”

But last week, Rauner told reporters he’s “assessing” the bill: “I am meeting with advocates and legislators on both sides, both who support the bill and who are against the bill. And we’re assessing,” Rauner said.

And the governor refused to say which way he is leaning until he sees the bill.


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