By Chris Kenning
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Abortion opponents in Illinois filed a lawsuit on Thursday to block a recently approved law expanding state-funded coverage of abortions for low-income Medicaid recipients and state workers.
The lawsuit was filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court on behalf of taxpayers by the conservative Thomas More Society, along with some state lawmakers and anti-abortion groups.
It asked a judge to block state funding for the law, arguing that the state failed to set aside up to $30 million in the budget to pay for abortions. The lawsuit also argued that the law could not take effect until June 2018, instead of January, because of when it was approved.
"The people of Illinois are opposed to taxpayer funded abortion, especially with the terrible financial state that Illinois is in," Peter Breen, a Republican state lawmaker and an attorney for the Thomas More Society, said on Thursday, arguing the state would have to pay for as many 30,000 abortions a year.
Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill in September, upsetting many conservatives.
"I do not think it's fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have," Rauner said at the time.
Reproductive rights advocates at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which supported the law, could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.
When the bill was signed, Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU's Women's and Reproductive Rights Project, said it would keep women from being denied abortion coverage just because they were on Medicaid or worked for the state. Medicaid is a government healthcare program for the poor and disabled.
About 15 other states allow Medicaid to pay for abortion, including some required by courts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Illinois was the first state in decades to voluntarily lift a restriction on such services. [nL2N1M92AR}
Illinois' Medicaid program has previously covered 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. The law would also allow state employees to have the procedures covered under state health insurance.
The law's passage by the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature came as Republican-led state legislatures and other Republican governors have sought in recent years to tighten regulations on abortion clinics and forced closures in states such as Texas and Kentucky.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Peter Cooney)