Baptists lament Ill. governor's reversal on abortion

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WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist leaders reacted with deep disappointment to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's change of mind in support of groundbreaking abortion-funding legislation.


In signing the legislation, Rauner also apparently established a precedent in state funding of abortion. Illinois becomes the first state in which the legislature and governor have acted to approve Medicaid funds for abortion, according to pro-life researcher Michael J. New. Previously, New reported, Medicaid funds for abortion were legal in 15 states -- 11 by judicial decision and four by health department action.


Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said he joined Illinois Baptists and others in the state "in expressing great disappointment" with Rauner's action.


"I'm sure Baptists in Illinois will be letting Governor Rauner know how deeply distressing his action is to people who revere God-given life," Adams said in a written statement for Baptist Press.


"Taxpayers' money should not be used to fund abortions in any circumstance," Adams said. "In signing this bill, Governor Rauner has abandoned his earlier promises to pro-life representatives that he would veto the bill, thereby protecting the most defenseless in our culture and preventing state funding [of abortions]."


Daniel Darling, vice president for communications of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP he was "saddened to see Governor Rauner break his promise to veto this legislation that would have not only protected" the lives of thousands of unborn children "but would have prevented taxpayers from subsidizing it."


"It is tragic enough that the extinguishing of the unborn is legal," Darling said in written comments. "It's the height of arrogance to make taxpayers pay for it. Faithful Christians should pray for a day when both parties in Illinois see the humanity of the life in the womb and work to enshrine that dignity into law."


The result of legalizing state funding of abortion will be an increase in the number of the lethal procedures, New said in a Sept. 29 article for National Review. A "very broad consensus" exists on both sides of the abortion issue "that funding abortion through Medicaid results in more abortions," he wrote.


In a 2016 analysis, New found the restrictions on Medicaid funding just reversed by Rauner's signature had blocked more than 144,000 abortions since 1976, saving about 3,800 unborn babies a year in Illinois.


The new Illinois law also would protect the right to abortion in the state if the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing the procedure nationwide is overturned.


Illinois' revocation of abortion funding restrictions followed by six weeks, but certainly did not surpass, an action by the state of Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, signed into law Aug. 15 a measure that requires health insurance companies to cover all abortions fully without a co-pay or deductible. It also provides increased funding for Medicaid to provide abortions for undocumented immigrants. The new law confirms Oregon's status as "the most radically pro-abortion state in America," according to Oregon Right to Life.


The enactment of the Illinois measure is another setback for a pro-life movement that has been disappointed so far this year at the federal level. Congress has been unable to pass a ban on funding for Planned Parenthood -- the scandal-ridden leading abortion provider in the country -- despite supposedly having pro-life majorities in both houses as well as a president who has pledged to sign it into law.


The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday (Oct. 3) on the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. Both the pain-capable bill and Planned Parenthood defunding are among year's pro-life priorities of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.


In explaining his reversal on HB 40, Rauner referred to his pro-choice position.


"[A]s 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," he said. "I do not think it's fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have.


"This is not a new position -- I campaigned on this principle in 2014 and it is a principle I have tried to live up to throughout my life."


Planned Parenthood of Illinois applauded Rauner's action. "HB 40 ends the discriminatory practice of denying women coverage based on how much money she makes or where she works," PPI President Jennifer Welch said in a written statement.


Baptists in Illinois, Adams told BP, "continue to support the rights of the unborn with ministry actions and public resolutions" opposing abortion and Roe v. Wade.


"Illinois Baptists are committed to ministry that preserves life and supports young women who find themselves in problematic pregnancies through the outstanding work of the Baptist Children's Home and Family Services," Adams said. "And hundreds of IBSA churches and pastors teach a biblical view of life and counsel wise decisions by families that affirm life."

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Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. 

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