By Dave McKinney
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Democratic-led Illinois House defied a veto threat by the state’s Republican governor by passing legislation on Tuesday to expand state-funded coverage of abortions for low-income residents and for state employees.
The measure, which passed the House 62-55 and now moves to the state Senate, also aims to keep abortions legal in Illinois if the U.S. Supreme Court follows President Donald Trump’s call to overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that permitted abortions 44 years ago.
The vote represented a rare legislative victory for abortion-rights advocates at a time when the battle to restrict abortion in the United States has heated up with the election of Trump as president with a conservative Congress.
“The intent ... is to protect women from a president who has been very, very clear about his desire to overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal in some states,” said state Representative Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat and the bill’s chief House sponsor.
Governor Bruce Rauner, regarded by political analysts as one of the nation's most vulnerable governors in 2018, has promised to veto the legislation, saying Illinois should focus on less “divisive” issues and instead pass a full-year operating budget for the first time in nearly two years.
A veto by Rauner would be a sharp turn from his previous position, which political opponents are poised to exploit. As a candidate in 2014, he supported expanding abortion access.
“It will be a clear litmus test as to who supports reproductive rights and who does not,” Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan told a women’s rally outside the state Capitol before the vote.
Illinois' Medicaid program covers abortions in cases of rape, incest and when a mother's life or health is threatened. The expansion would enable poor women to obtain elective abortions.
Also, the legislation would allow state employees now deprived of abortion services under state health insurance to have the procedures covered.
Rauner’s office could not immediately be reached for comment, but his Republican backers in the House castigated the legislation as an immoral, costly drain on a state facing financial ruin.
“I don’t really understand how we can say we do care about the most vulnerable among us when we have limited funds and we’ll be spending money for something that not only is opposed by many of us but is considered to be an abomination,” said state Representative Terri Bryant, a Republican from southern Illinois.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)