Republican lawmakers sue to block abortion law Rauner approved

Chicago Tribune

Several groups opposed to abortion rights and Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to block a law expanding the use of taxpayer money to fund abortions that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed earlier this year.

The lawsuit wants to keep the state from spending money on abortions as allowed under the new law, contending lawmakers did not specifically set aside money in the state budget to pay for the procedures. The suit filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court and drafted by the nonprofit religious liberty law firm Thomas More Society also attempts to delay when the law takes effect, from Jan. 1 to June 1 of next year.

Thomas More Society special counsel and Republican state Rep. Peter Breen, of Lombard, said the case goes beyond moral objections to abortion and is designed to protect taxpayers.

“This is not a lawsuit about restricting or allowing abortions,” Breen said. “Unlike more traditional abortion lawsuits where you discuss the specifics on whether a restriction should apply, this is solely about these public funds flowing to these services.”

Breen also took issue with the way lawmakers approved the measure. He noted that after the Senate voted for it in May, Democrats placed a procedural hold on the bill and did not send it to Rauner’s desk for action until September. During that time, Rauner was the subject of intense lobbying from parties on both sides of the issue, and the Republican governor angered conservatives by eventually deciding to sign the bill after an earlier promise to veto it.

The lawsuit contends that the delay violates a requirement in the Illinois Constitution that a bill be sent to the governor within 30 days of being passed. Further, it says, the bill cannot take effect on Jan. 1 because of that delay.

The Illinois Constitution states that a bill passed after May 31 cannot go into effect until June 1 of the next year without a three-fifths vote of the legislature. The lawsuit contends September should count as when the bill was finally passed because that’s when Democrats sent it to Rauner. However, Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office issued an opinion on a related matter earlier this year that found lifting a hold on a bill does not count as “final legislative action.”

Madigan’s office will represent the state officials being sued, including Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Director Felicia Norwood and Department of Central Management Services acting Director Michael Hoffman, as well as Democratic state Treasurer Michael Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the measure, said she did not think the lawsuit had “much merit.”

“They failed to defeat it in the legislature, they failed to get the governor to veto it, so now they are bringing this specious lawsuit,” she said. “Whatever they can do to try to undermine women’s reproductive rights.”

The law expands taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee health insurance. The state already covers abortions in some limited cases.

Illinois Right to Life, one of the groups bringing the lawsuit, projected that the measure could mean 12,000 additional abortions per year. Another group, however, put the figure at 3,800 a year.

Opponents to expanding public funding for abortions say doing so violates a longstanding principle that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a procedure that they might oppose on moral or religious grounds. Supporters say the limits on abortions for women who are covered by Medicaid or state employee insurance create unfair burdens and hurdles.

A Rauner spokeswoman said the governor “understands there will be people who disagree with him.” While the governor initially opposed the measure, he said when signing the bill that he has “to be consistent with my values.”

“I also believe that no woman should be forced to make a different decision than another woman would make purely based on her income,” Rauner said. “I believe that a woman living with limited financial means should not be put in the position where she has to choose something different than a woman of higher income would be able to choose.”

His approval of the bill opened a chasm between conservatives in his party, who labeled Rauner a failed governor destined to serve one term. It has prompted a potential primary challenge from Rep. Jeanne Ives, of Wheaton, who is gathering petitions to try to get on the March ballot. Additionally, several other GOP lawmakers signed on as plaintiffs in the case.

The Republican fighting drew jabs from Democrats, including Frerichs, who said in a statement that his office has yet to be served in the lawsuit.

“But, perhaps before coming to me, the anti-choice groups and Republican representatives bringing this suit should first have a conversation with the Office of Governor Bruce Rauner, who signed HB40 into law.”

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