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Group says Rauner deceived Illinois voters on abortion stance

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Thursday, April 20, 2017  |  Article  |  AP

Abortion (1) , Rauner, Bruce Feigenholtz, Sara--State House, 12

CHICAGO — Campaigning as a pro-choice Republican in 2014, Bruce Rauner said he would sign legislation to ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois and to expand abortion coverage for state workers and Medicaid recipients.

But last week Rauner said he would veto a measure pending in the Legislature that supporters say would do both, citing "sharp divisions of opinion of taxpayer funding of abortion."

An abortion-rights group on Wednesday accused Rauner of misleading voters to get elected and called on him to uphold his campaign commitment. Personal PAC also released a copy of the candidate questionnaire Rauner completed and noted his wife, Diana Rauner, was among more than 100 people who signed a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune in October 2014 that described Rauner as pro-choice.

"They actively went out and deceived the voters of Illinois," Personal PAC President Terry Cosgrove said.

Rauner's office deferred comment to the governor's political team, but noted that under existing law Illinois has more expansive Medicaid coverage for abortion than almost every other state.

"You guys are getting all spun up unnecessarily," Rauner's political spokeswoman, Kirsten Kukowski, said in an email. "He supports current law that allows for (Medicaid coverage of) abortion in cases of rape, incest and for health and life of the mother ... This legislation is beyond that which he doesn't support."

The issue is getting heightened attention as several Democrats have announced they will try to unseat Rauner in 2018 and in the wake of President Donald Trump's election.

At the center of the debate is legislation sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago, which has passed a House committee and awaits floor action.

The proposal would remove prohibitions on state employee health insurance and Medicaid funds from covering abortions. It would also safeguard abortion access in Illinois by striking language in current law that expresses the state's intent to criminalize the procedure if the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized it is ever overturned.

Feigenholtz, Cosgrove and other supporters say it's especially urgent the language be removed because Trump has said he will appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose the federal ruling. They say that if that occurs, abortion would be illegal in Illinois.

Others, including the Rauner administration, say the procedure wouldn't automatically become illegal and that there is nothing in state law that makes abortion criminal or authorizes a punishment for it.

In his 2014 candidate questionnaire, Rauner said his "highest priority" in regard to reproductive rights would be ensuring access regardless of income.

"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," he wrote. "I would support a legislative effort to reverse that law."

Several conservative lawmakers and groups, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, had been calling on Rauner to veto the bill before his office issued its statement on Friday. Some were unhappy with the governor because of previous positions he took on social issues, including signing bills expanding access to birth control and requiring physicians who refuse to perform abortions to inform patients where they can go instead.

Abortion opponents cheered Rauner's statement last week and defended him again Wednesday.

"I thank him for this principled stand," said Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago. "Abortion is a controversial issue in this country, but using public money to provide abortions should not be."

Rauner's potential Democratic rivals also weighed in, with Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar issuing a statement that said "Bruce Rauner is a liar."