CHICAGO (AP) Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner ended months of speculation Thursday and signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions, as the first-term Republican reversed his stance on the proposal from last spring.
The General Assembly controlled by Democrats approved the measure in May but delayed sending it to Rauner until Monday, in part because he has changed his mind about support of the plan.
As a candidate in 2014, Rauner said he would support expanding coverage for abortions. But last April he said he opposed the idea and said the state should focus on improving the economy.
Rauner announced his intentions to support the plan at a downtown Chicago news conference, saying he’d talked to advocates on both sides of the issue and both had good arguments. But he added that he’s always supported abortion rights and won’t change his views. He signed the bill privately.
“The passions, the emotions, the sentiments on both sides of these issues are very powerful. I respect them very much,” he said. “I believe that a woman living with limited financial means should not be put in a position where she has to choose something different than a woman of high income would be able to choose.”
The proposal would allow abortions funded by state employee health insurance and Medicaid. Democrats argue all women should have the same access to abortion services. Republicans argued taxpayers should not be forced to fund a morally objectionable procedure, particularly during a state budget crisis.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services estimates the annual taxpayer cost of abortions under the measure would be $1.8 million.
The decision has been politically difficult for Rauner, who’s considered one of the most vulnerable governors nationwide in his 2018 bid for a second term.
The former venture capitalist first won elected office in 2014, in part by getting support from independent voters in the suburbs, especially women, with his pledge to have “no social agenda.” He often campaigned with his wife, Diana Rauner, who calls herself a “lifelong Democrat.”
Rejecting the measure would turn off those voters while signing it would risk enraging social conservatives and could mean a primary challenger for him.
The law takes effect immediately after he signs the bill.
The measure also removes language in Illinois law that states a desire to criminalize abortion if a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing the procedure is overturned. Democrats initially sold the bill as a means of keeping abortion legal if Roe v. Wade were dumped.
President Donald Trump, who took office in January, has promised to nominate Supreme Court justices bent on revisiting Roe.