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Democratic Illinois House OKs public funding for abortions

April 26, 2017 GMT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Democratic-controlled Illinois House approved legislation Tuesday that would allow the state to cover abortions for state employees and Medicaid recipients, voting just hours after several hundred people from across the state flocked to the Capitol to lobby their lawmakers to support it.

The 62-55 party-line vote coincided with a rally by women’s groups outside the Capitol which focused on a “progressive” legislative agenda, headed by the abortion measure. Springing from the inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump in January, the issue has gained enough steam this spring to force GOP Bruce Rauner to walk back his former support for expanding publicly-funded abortions.

Despite the familiarity of the arguments from both sides, the floor debate lasted two hours and was fueled by the morning rally, called the Illinois Women March, which was patterned after similar marches worldwide Jan. 21.

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“Women should have access to safe, legal and accessible abortion no matter what their insurance is,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the proposal’s sponsor, in closing the floor debate.

Feigenholtz and other Democratic proponents argued the measure is a matter of fairness, ending the “two-tiered” system that denies low-income women and state employees the same access to abortion coverage that women insured privately or by some units of local government receive and protecting their right to make reproductive health decisions. They say the proposal would also safeguard abortion access in Illinois by striking language in current law expressing the state’s intent to criminalize the procedure if the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized it is ever overturned.

But Republicans claimed the Legislature lacks necessary public support to use taxpayer dollars in funding the controversial procedure, particularly amid the state’s two-year-long budget crisis.

“Where should this money come from?” asked Republican Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard, who said Medicaid-funded abortions do not qualify for a federal match and would cost Illinois an extra $60 million a year. “Should it come from cancer screenings? Legitimate medical expenses like heart medicine or insulin?”

Breen also called striking the so-called “trigger language” in existing law — which advocates say would criminalize abortion in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned — a “smokescreen” to cover the bill’s funding expansion. He cited a 1989 analysis from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Research Unit that found Illinois would need to reinstate criminal penalties for abortion before that language could have any practical application.

During the debate, Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago read from a statement she said Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner made during his 2014 run for governor in support of ensuring women can access abortion services regardless of income level.

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Rauner said last week he opposes expanding publicly funded abortions, although he supports Feigenholtz in her effort to keep abortion legal in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The issue has become a political flashpoint in the 2018 gubernatorial race, in which Rauner already faces six Democratic opponents, three of whom joined Tuesday’s rally in support of the Women March’s agenda. That agenda covers a multitude of issues advocates say would improve women’s lives including protecting immigrant rights, increasing the minimum wage and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

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The abortion bill is HB40 .

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Political writer John O’Connor contributed to this report. Follow him at https://twitter.com/apoconnor .

Follow Kiannah Sepeda-Miller at https://twitter.com/kiannahsepeda .