Updated 4:40 p.m.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed into law an abortion bill that he previously threatened to veto, prompting a backlash from conservatives and creating political risks for a first-term governor who has largely stayed away from social policies.
“I, personally, am pro-choice,” Rauner said during a press conference to announce his decision. “I always have been. And I made no qualms about that when I was elected governor. And I have not, and never will, change my views.”
The legislation safeguards abortions in Illinois if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade opinion that legalized the procedure in 1973.
The state bill permits abortions to be funded through Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor. Previously, the state law only allowed Medicaid to fund abortions when they are deemed “medically necessary” or after instances of rape or incest.
The legislation also allows state employees to use their government-funded insurance plans to obtain abortions.
For Rauner, signing the bill poses significant political risks heading into a potential re-election campaign, especially as his stance on the issue has evolved. As a candidate in 2014, Rauner said he supported easing restrictions on publicly-funded abortions. But last spring, he threatened to veto the legislation. That vow angered abortion-rights advocates.
Rauner on signing HB40: “I do not think it’s fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have.”— Dave McKinney (@davemckinney) September 28, 2017
As recently as last week, he declined to repeat his veto threat. That has upset conservative and evangelical supporters.
“Bruce Rauner is a failed governor who lied to the people of Illinois,” said state Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) after learning Rauner would sign the abortion bill. “On April 14th, he announced that he would veto HB 40. Rauner looked the other way on the 32 percent increase in the income tax rate, made Illinois a sanctuary state, and is primarily responsible for Illinois’ $16 billion backlog of unpaid bills.”
State Rep. Peter Breen, the House Republican floor leader, said on Thursday that he renounces his support for Rauner.
“In the face of overwhelming evidence of Rauner’s inability to competently administer the Illinois government, inability to stand up to (House Speaker) Mike Madigan effectively, and inability to keep his word and his commitments, I can no longer support him,” Breen said in a statement. “And whether or not they are able to agree publicly, I know hundreds of elected Republicans, along with hundreds of thousands of Republican voters, who feel the same way I do.”
But Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, who is the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said in a statement that he will continue to support Rauner even though he is “disappointed” with his decision.
“While I am frustrated and saddened, I also know that Speaker Madigan and the Democrats are trying to use this issue to divide our party and elect a Madigan-backed candidate for governor,” Schneider said.
Opponents of the bill included Illinois Federation of Right to Life and Concerned Christians of America. Supporters included abortion-rights groups like Planned Parenthood of Illinois, the ACLU and Personal PAC.
“Governor Rauner kept his 2014 promise to the voters of Illinois and signed HB 40,” said Terry Cosgrove, president and CEO of Personal PAC, in a statement.
Last spring, the measure passed the Illinois House and Senate, but not with enough votes to override a veto or amendatory veto by the governor.
The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which administers Medicaid, predicted it could cost the state $1.8 million a year to fund abortions through a state program.
Last December, the state Public Health Department reported that 39,856 abortions were performed in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That marked a slight uptick from 2014, but is the second lowest annual total during the past decade.