SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has clashed with Illinois Democrats on big issues like the state budget and the influence of unions, but he recently he bucked the party line on legislation the GOP has fervently opposed: Expanding birth control coverage and access to abortions.
Not a single Republican voted in favor of either bill.
So last week, Rauner surprised some Republican legislators and angered conservative groups when he signed both Democrat-sponsored measures. One of them extends insurance coverage for nearly all contraceptives and the other requires physicians who refuse to perform abortions or other health care services for moral and religious reasons to provide information to patients on where they can go instead.
Immediately after Rauner’s decision, the head of one religious group called him a traitor, and some conservative lawmakers were befuddled.
“I’m still trying to digest that,” Republican Rep. Thomas Morrison said when asked about the governor’s decision to sign the bill to offer information regarding abortion providers.
“My primary objection was due to the fact that it violates religious freedom rights and also free speech rights,” said Morrison, who along with several other Republicans met with Rauner before he signed the proposal to express their concerns.
The signings highlight a side of the governor’s ideology that gets little attention as he wages a war against Democrats to change the political landscape of Illinois by trying to weaken unions, pushing for term limits, and calling for the state to be more pro-business. His disagreements with Democrats on those issues have led to a yearlong budget standoff likely to extend past November.
The governor’s office provided a brief statement on the bills, but no explanation for why he signed them.
“Governor Rauner has never pushed a social agenda and remains committed to government, economic and education reforms that can turnaround Illinois,” spokesman Andrew Flach said in an email.
The same day he signed those bills, he also approved legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts.
Even before he was elected in 2014, Rauner had distinguished himself from more conservative politicians who take a hard line stance on abortion and whether insurance companies should cover birth control, including the morning-after pill, which some Republicans view as equivalent to an abortion.
When Rauner was campaigning for governor, he expressed his views on abortion in a questionnaire from The Associated Press.
“I believe this is an issue that is best decided by a woman and her doctor. I do support restrictions on late-term abortions,” he said.
The Illinois Family Institute’s executive director, who called Rauner a traitor in a tweet, said the governor’s action showed he’s “not what he claims to be.”
“He claims to be a small government guy. I guess that applies just to fiscal issues, and not the power of the state,” David Smith said.
Democratic Sen. Daniel Biss, one of the lead sponsors of the bill for doctors to give information about other health providers, said the new law simply empowers patients to “get all the information so they can make a decision.”
He said he knew Rauner was under a lot of pressure to veto the bill. But Biss said Rauner’s comments on the campaign trail also told him there was a chance he’d sign it.
“He said repeatedly, `I have no social agenda,”‘ Biss said.