Politics & Policy

Rauner Becomes First Governor to Begin Taxpayer Funding of Abortion

On Thursday, the Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, signed the controversial House Bill 40 into law. HB 40 contains language that will ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned. More importantly, HB 40 would also require taxpayer funding of abortion for low income women through Illinois’ Medicaid program. In April, Rauner indicated that he would oppose the legislation because of “sharp divisions of opinion” about public subsidies for abortion. However, the governor apparently had a change of heart and signed the bill into law this week.

What is interesting – and disheartening – for pro-lifers is that Illinois is the first state where taxpayer funding of abortion came about through the democratic process.  The Hyde Amendment places strict limits on the ability of the federal government to fund abortion through Medicaid. However, states have always been free to pursue their own policy. Prior to today, 15 states funded abortion through Medicaid. In eleven of these states, the policy was imposed through a judicial ruling. In the four other states, health departments simply decided Medicaid would cover elective abortions. As such, Governor Rauner made history in an ignominious way.

From a policy perspective, this will certainly have negative consequences. There is a considerable amount of debate about various aspects of abortion policy.  However, there is a very broad consensus that funding abortion through Medicaid results in more abortions.  Even groups that support legal abortion — including the Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Reproductive Rights — have published analyses showing taxpayer funding for abortion increases abortion rates. My 2016 analysis found that the Hyde Amendment protections in Illinois, which were just undone by Governor Rauner, have prevented 144,721 abortions since 1976 and protected 3,800 unborn children in Illinois every year.

Politically, it is hard to see how Governor Rauner benefits from this decision. Taxpayer funding of abortion is unpopoular, even in blue states. Furthermore, his decision has already caused a great deal of discord within the Illinois Republican party. Today, a number of Republican state legislators sharply criticized the governor’s decision and State Representative Peter Breen stated that he can no longer support the governor. A pro-life Republican should certainly mount a primary challenge. Even if unsuccessful, it would demonstrate that pro-choice Republicans will face consequences for breaking promises and adopting policies that threaten the unborn.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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