Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner today signed into law a bill that expands Medicaid and state employee insurance to cover abortion and enshrines a woman’s constitutional right to abortion in the state of Illinois. His decision marks the first time in over two decades that a state has voluntarily provided Medicaid-funded abortion care for low-income and disabled women.
HB 40—championed by state Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D) and Senator Heather A. Steans (D) in the legislature—lifts restrictions in state law on Medicaid coverage for abortion, repeals a current “trigger law” put into place in 1975 in the state that would have made abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade was overturned and allows state employees to negotiate for abortion coverage in their health insurance plans. The legislation passed the House in April and the Senate in May, but wasn’t sent to Rauner’s desk until Monday.
“The Governor’s decision is a game-changer in the fight for reproductive justice,” Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, said in a statement today. “It is all the more monumental that this legislation was passed essentially along party lines by a Democratic majority state senate and house, but will now be signed into law by a Republican governor.”
Rauner campaigned on expanding Medicaid coverage to abortion leading up to his 2014 election, declaring that laws restricting Medicaid funds from covering abortion were unfair because they constrained access based on income. His wife, Diana, helped fund a full-page ad during his campaign against Democrat Pat Quinn touting that “both candidates for Illinois Governor… are pro-choice.”
557,000 women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid in Illinois, and so are one-in-five women of reproductive age nationwide. But under the Hyde Amendment—a discriminatory ban on federal funding for abortions in place since 1976—the low-income women, Native American women, disabled women and government employees who rely on Medicaid and other government-funded healthcare programs have been unable to access comprehensive reproductive healthcare. At the federal level, lawmakers are trying to pass the EACH Woman Act to repeal the ban.
Although the Hyde Amendment makes some room for abortion care in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, women with cancer or other serious illnesses can still be denied funding for the procedure under the law. As it stands, only 14 states—excluding Illinois—provide Medicaid funding for abortion beyond Hyde restrictions. Until today, state employees could be and had been denied coverage for reproductive health care, including for medically necessary abortions, with no exceptions for rape and incest—and a court mandate ruling that Illinois use government funds to cover medically necessary abortions went largely unenforced.
“Governor Rauner demonstrated through his announcement that Medicaid-funded abortions should not be a partisan issue, but rather a matter of economic justice,” Smeal said. “Abortion is not a constitutionally protected right for only wealthy women. Making decisions about what happens to one’s own body is a constitutionally protected right for everyone. Poor women, just like women of greater means, deserve access to comprehensive, constitutionally-protected reproductive healthcare, which includes abortion. Medicaid isn’t supposed to be wielded as a weapon to punish poor women. But that is exactly what it becomes when we use women’s bodies as a battleground for a draconian agenda that the majority of Americans do not support.”
Today marks International Safe Abortion Day, a global day of action for access to safe and legal abortion. In two days, the Hyde Amendment will turn 41. Next week, lawmakers in the House plan to vote on a nationwide 20-week abortion ban. (A 20-week ban is also one of two laws restricting abortion proposed in Illinois this year.) In the midst of a political climate where lawmakers at all levels have been seeking to erode abortion access and attack women’s healthcare, Rauner’s signature on HB 40 sends a firm message—in Illinois and to the entire country—that abortion access shouldn’t be defined by income or location.
“This is a great victory for all women, for reproductive freedom as a human right and for the return of the Republican party to its original tradition of individual rights,” Ms. co-founder Gloria Steinem said in a statement. “I applaud Governor Rauner for his leadership and for putting the state of Illinois into the forefront of human rights.”