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Money frontrunner Richard Irvin silent amid leak of draft Supreme Court decision

FILE - Aurora, Ill. Mayor Richard Irvin holds a media briefing Monday, June 1, 2020 in Aurora, Ill. An ad paid for by the Democratic Governors Association attacking a Republican challenger for governor for his record as a criminal defense attorney is simply "telling the truth," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. The DGA's ad attacks Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who is backed by billionaire Ken Griffin, for serving as a criminal defense attorney while criticizing Pritzker for an increase in crime. (Rick West/Daily Herald via AP)

Perhaps the biggest news affecting state government this week came not from Springfield but from Washington, D.C.

That news was an unprecedented leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. That case’s precedent protects access to abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy and gives states only limited authority to regulate it.

While the leaked draft isn’t final and might not be for months, Illinois Democrats pointed out that because of actions taken by lawmakers in the past five years, the law here is unlikely to immediately change should the decision be repealed.

The Reproductive Health Act, signed by Gov. JB Pritzker in 2019, enshrined abortion as a fundamental right within state law. In December, he signed a repeal of a law that required abortion providers to notify the parents of a minor who will be undergoing the procedure.

Those followed a 2017 law signed by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner that allowed for state-funded Medicaid coverage of abortions and cemented abortion protections in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The draft opinion would give regulatory authority of abortions back to the states, which means future legislatures could consider rolling back protections.

Although it’s a long shot that the GOP would unseat enough supermajority Democrats in the General Assembly to have a chance at repealing some of the state’s recent abortion actions, it’s worth looking at the records of the GOP challengers vying in the June 28 primary for a one-on-one shot at Pritzker in November.

One noticeably silent candidate this week was the man in the money lead, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, whose running mate is one of the General Assembly’s staunchest abortion foes.

The Irvin campaign, normally active with news releases daily, issued none Tuesday in the wake of the Supreme Court leak. The campaign still hasn’t addressed the draft decision, instead waiting until the court opinion is final, which could come after the primary election.

It did, however, receive another $25 million donation from former Rauner backer and GOP megadonor Ken Griffin, bringing its total received from Griffin to $45 million. From January to March, Irvin spent almost $12 million and has maintained a constant presence on the airwaves since then.

That’s allowed him to reach the broader Illinois audience while remaining mum on most issues, including abortion. His campaign website lists only the issues of crime, taxes and corruption.

The clearest window into his abortion stance came when he told Fox Chicago’s Mike Flannery in February he was “pro-life ... You know, there are always exceptions: rape, incest, life of the mother.”

Amid a follow-up question from Flannery, Irvin ended the 15-minute interview that his campaign said had gone on longer than interviews with other TV stations.

His campaign said that stance has been consistent, but it didn’t respond directly to questions Friday. He also has said publicly that he would seek to reinstate the parental notice law that was repealed last year, which would require lawmaker action.

Further insight can be gained from the record of his running mate, Rep. Avery Bourne, a Republican from Morrisonville who has served in the General Assembly since 2015. She was a staunch and vocal “no” vote on all three of the abortion expansion measures mentioned above.

Two other candidates – Darren Bailey and Jesse Sullivan – issued news releases Tuesday that noted they would seek to roll back some of the recent state abortion measures, which also would require lawmaker action.

Sullivan, a venture capitalist from downstate Petersburg, attributed the potential Roe v. Wade decision to the power of prayer. He spent almost $2.5 million from January through March and had $8 million in cash on hand, which has allowed him to maintain a TV presence.

“Our prayers, our persistence and our patriotism could save millions of lives for generations to come,” he said in a statement. “We must put an end to late-term, partial-birth abortions. We must put an end to taxpayer-funded abortions. We must bring back parental notification for minors.”

His campaign didn’t respond to questions asking for more specifics.

Bailey, a state senator from Xenia who gained notoriety for challenging Pritzker’s pandemic executive orders in court, said in a statement on Twitter that he would “continue to pray for life and our nation” and would support “policies and groups that help empower women with real options and save lives.”

Of the three most recent abortion expansions, he was in office for two of them, voting “no.” His statement specifically mentioned rolling back taxpayer-funded abortions and reinstating parental notice, which, again, would require lawmaker action.

His campaign pointed to an April appearance in Chicago, covered by the Chicago Sun-Times, in which Bailey said the mother’s life is “always important” when asked if abortion should be allowed if the mother is in danger.

“You know, I don’t personally consider that abortion,” Bailey said, according to the Sun-Times. “Many times, there’s a medical procedure that has to take place and there’s a choice of life. So, in those instances, I would always obviously lean toward the life of the mother.”

He has received endorsements from the anti-abortion groups Illinois Family Action, Illinois Federation for Right to Life and Illinois Citizens for Life. He’s also received $3.5 million from another major GOP donor, businessman Richard Uihlein, and spent about $1 million in the first quarter of 2022.

Gary Rabine, a Bull Valley businessman who owns a paving company and has engaged in anti-vaccine conspiracies, said on Twitter that he is “unapologetically pro-life,” likening abortion to “murder.” A call to his campaign, which spent $314,000 in the first quarter, was not returned Friday.

Paul Schimpf, a former state senator from Waterloo, did not issue a statement or respond to questions. But he was in office for the Medicaid funding expansion and Reproductive Health Act passage, both of which he opposed. His campaign spent $130,000 in the first quarter.

Jerry Nowicki is the bureau Chief of Capitol News Illinois, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.