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House Democrats Pass Abortion Legislation

Illinois House Chamber
Tom Lisi
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

As women rallied at the Illinois Capitol Tuesday, the House passed a measure that would allow abortion to be covered by Medicaid and state-employee health insurance.

If it also passes the Senate, it would be the first abortion legislation sent to the governor’s desk in 17 years.

In Illinois, abortion laws have changed very little in the last 40 years. Opponents have had a few small successes, but now legal-abortion advocates are on the offensive for the first time in a generation. Their reason? President Donald Trump.

“I think he has sent shockwaves through women who have lived through times when abortions are illegal, and younger women,” said Democratic Representative Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago.

Feigenholtz is the legislation’s sponsor. It would also strike down Illinois’ so-called trigger law, written in the 1970s. It says abortion would automatically become illegal in Illinois if Roe v. Wade was ever overturned.

Opponents say there's broad legal consensus that the trigger law has no teeth, and would not change the state’s abortion laws if Roe was struck down on the federal level.

But the mostly Republican opposition focused on a different part of the bill — saying taxpayer should not be used to pay for abortions.

“For approximately 36 years, it’s been the policy here in Illinois and in our country, that our citizens shouldn’t be required to pay for other people’s abortions,” said Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro.

Similar pro-legal abortion proposals have been drafted in past years, but it's the first time the legislation has made it to a vote.

The timing creates a rich political opportunity for Democrats to pile on Governor Bruce Rauner. Rauner says he will veto the legislation because abortion procedures done through state-funded insurance is too controversial.

“Apparently he changed his mind from the time that he ran for governor in 2014 and said he was pro-choice, to now where he says he’s going to veto this bill,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, who spoke at a women’s rally Tuesday in Springfield.

Rauner as a candidate wrote in support of the idea in an abortion-related policy questionnaire.

Tom reports on statehouse issues for NPR Illinois. He's currently a Public Affairs Reporting graduate program student at the University of Illinois Springfield. He graduated from Macalester College. Tom is from New York City where he also did stand-up and improv and wrote for the Awl and WNYC public radio.
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