POLITICS
05/14/2014 02:47 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2014

GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Attends Pro-Choice Event, Anti-Abortion Groups Freak Out

Brian Kersey via Getty Images

A Republican businessman challenging Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) attended an abortion-rights gala Saturday. Unsurprisingly, anti-abortion groups in the state aren't thrilled.

Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner is attempting to do what hasn't been done in more than 10 years: hold the governorship as a Republican in the centrist state. The multimillionaire has a wife who says she is a Democrat, and he has said the government shouldn't intervene in a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Rauner attended a "Bill of Rights" event in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois' reproductive rights program Saturday. His wife, Diana Rauner, was one of the hosts, while Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a steadfast pro-choice lawmaker, was the keynote speaker. Quinn was also in attendance.

The timing of the event was significant, as Rauner did not appear at the lllinois Right to Life Committee's 45th anniversary dinner just two days earlier.

In a statement to NBC, Rauner's campaign attributed his attendance to his wife.

"Bruce's wife, Diana, is a supporter and she asked him to stop by because she could not," the statement said. "Bruce has always said he believes this issue is best left between a woman and her doctor and family, not the government."

Illinois Right to Life Executive Director Emily Zender called Rauner's choice to attend the ACLU event "disgusting."

In an email to The Huffington Post, Zender expressed some ambivalence as to how Rauner would govern on abortion rights if he's elected in November:

We ask Mr. Rauner reject the ACLU position and affirm that he will support these common-sense regulations on abortion. The statement by his spokesman that the abortion of a child "is best left to a woman and her doctor and her family, not the government" appears to indicate that he opposes any regulations on abortion, no matter how much the people support such measures. Would a Governor Rauner approve a repeal of Illinois' parental notice law or of our partial-birth abortion ban?

Rauner gave a more detailed explanation of his views in November 2013:

The reality is that the right for a woman to choose is a national law. That’s not going to change in Illinois. I think we can agree on some common sense ways for abortion to be more rare and safe. I support parental notification, I support late term restrictions. I strongly encourage adoption as a far better alternative to abortion. There are things we can agree on to try to get it done.

But I am one who believes — I just think it’s better that a woman, her physician, her family and her minister and priest make the decision better than the government. That’s my view. People can disagree with me, I respect that.

The gubernatorial candidate, who owns nine homes and made more than $50 million in 2013, is pitching his private equity background as a qualification for him to take on the state's economic woes: It has the nation's lowest credit rating and one of the country's highest unemployment rates.

Quinn is considered one of the most vulnerable governors in the country, so Rauner's moderated stance on abortion rights may be an attempt to soften a policy position that could be an easy target for Democrats.

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