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Abortion Foes Take Public Funding Fight Back To Illinois Supreme Court

Peter Breen
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Rep. Peter Breen speaks with reporters after a trial court hearing on HB40 in this file photo from December 2017.

Anti-abortion groups are once again going before the Illinois Supreme Court.

They're trying to block last year’s new law allowing state government to pay for abortions.

The law expanded abortion access for state and public university employees, and women on the low-income Medicaid program.

But abortion opponents are using a novel legal strategy — arguing the state can’t pay for abortions because recent budgets are unconstitutional.

Peter Breen is with the Thomas More Society, which bills itself as a Roman Catholic public interest law firm. He says recent budgets have not met the Constitutional requirement of a revenue estimate — that is, how much Illinois expects to collect in tax money.

“The lower court decisions read that requirement out of the Constitution altogether,” Breen says. “That is the only protection taxpayers have that they would get a balanced budget.”

Indeed those judges basically said the anti-abortion groups are over-reading the balanced budget language in the Illinois Constitution. They also said the dispute is a political question, and thus should be settled in the legislature.

The groups also went to the Illinois Supreme Court earlier this year, attempting to jump the line by saying they were pursuing a matter of extraordinary public interest. But the justices declined to take the case and directed the plaintiffs toward the usuall appeals process.

Breen is also a Republican state representative from Lombard, though he’ll be giving up his seat in January after losing the November election. He says the case should have appeal to Illinoisans who do not share his views on abortion.

“Here the thing: Whatever your position on abortion, as an Illinois taxpayer you should be in favor of this case, and in favor of ensuring that the General Assembly follow the Constitution, establish that revenue estimate, and don’t spend a penny more than the amount of money we’ve got coming in,” Breen says.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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