Something happened yesterday. Something that may seem like a fairy tale in the current political moment. A Republican governor signed a bill to lift bans on insurance coverage for abortion for low-income women enrolled in Medicaid. The bill would also protect the right to abortion in Illinois — even if the unthinkable happens and Roe v. Wade is overturned.
In signing HB 40, Gov. Bruce Rauner made history: Illinois is the first state in decades to lift their restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion. That this incredible leap forward for the movement to lift abortion coverage bans happened in Illinois is poetic. After all, it was Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde who, 41 years ago tomorrow, first passed the Hyde Amendment, banning Medicaid from covering abortion and launching four decades of attacks on women’s health and decision-making.
The stunning victory for reproductive justice comes on the heels of months of campaigning by local groups to persuade the governor to sign the bill. Because of this new law, women enrolled in Illinois Medicaid will no longer be barred from using their coverage for abortion. Put simply: The amount of money in your bank account will no longer determine whether you can get an abortion if you need one.
House Bill 40 also removes provisions from Illinois law that deny abortion coverage to some state employees. This bill backs up our state’s values by ending political interference with insurance coverage for abortion and ensuring that a woman isn’t treated differently just because of her income or where she gets her insurance. It is simply common sense: When health programs for women with low incomes cover birth control and abortion — not just childbirth — it’s good for them and it’s good for society as a whole.
Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde’s shameful legacy of banning insurance coverage for abortion has left a trail of devastation in its wake. Research shows that restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. And a woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied one is more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who can get the abortion she seeks.
For a low-income woman in Illinois, forced to make an impossible decision between paying for food or rent or paying for an abortion, this is about health, economic security, and being able to live with dignity.
This victory is about more than Illinois: It’s also a powerful message to those across the country who are resisting and persisting. We can make a difference. We can pass laws that support and respect women. We can persuade lawmakers to do the right thing.
I’m grateful to the bill’s sponsors, Representative Feignholtz and Senator Steans, to the Illinois General Assembly, and to Governor Rauner. I’m grateful to our local partners, our statewide reproductive health and access coalition and, of course, our national partners at All* Above All for deep solidarity and incredible advocacy.
Most of all, I’m grateful to every person who wrote an email, made a phone call, wrote a message on a balloon, told a friend or family member about this bill, shared their story, and fought tirelessly until the day was won.
The people, united, can still make a difference in our communities and in this country.