CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed a controversial bill into law on Thursday to expand state-funded coverage of abortions for low-income residents on Medicaid and state employees.
The bill, approved by the state legislature in May, would also 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 made abortions legal 44 years ago.
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 bill would allow state employees to have the procedures covered under state health insurance.
Rauner, who had earlier suggested he would veto the measure, said in a statement that he had talked to woman around the state before making his decision.
“I understand abortion is a very emotional issue with passionate opinions on both sides. I sincerely respect those who believe abortion is morally wrong,” he said.
“But, as I have always said, I believe a woman should have the right to make that choice herself and I do not believe that choice should be determined by income,” Rauner added. “I do not think it’s fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have.”
The decision comes as conservative 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.
The move by Rauner upset conservatives.
“Taxpayers should not be forced to fund something as controversial and culturally divisive as abortions,” Republican state Senator Dan McConchie told the Chicago Tribune.
Currently, 15 other states allow Medicaid to pay for abortion, including some required by courts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But Illinois is the first state in decades to voluntarily lift its restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, according to National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
“Under the Trump administration, we are potentially facing the greatest threat to reproductive rights in more than a generation. HB 40 ensures that abortion will remain legal in Illinois, regardless of what happens at the federal level,” the forum’s executive director, Sung Yeon Choimorrow, said in a statement.
Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Diane Craft