Illinois Medical Bill on Religious Refusals Considered Blow to Conscience Rights

Surgery Credit Fernando Audibert-compressed
Photo Credit: Fernando Audibert

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A medical bill in Illinois that was signed into law this week by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is raising concern as pro-life groups in the state believe that its referral mandates for those who decline procedures for religious reasons are a blow to conscience rights.

Senate Bill 1564, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), was introduced as a means to amend the Health Care Right of Conscience Act by requiring health care facilities to establish protocols in the event a staff member refuses involvement in a procedure due to their faith.

Protocols can include transferring the patient to another doctor or providing a referral.

“When a health care facility, physician, or health care personnel is unable to permit, perform, or participate in a health care service that is a diagnostic or treatment option requested by a patient because the health care service is contrary to the conscience of the health care facility, physician, or health care personnel, then the patient shall either be provided the requested health care service by others in the facility or be notified that the health care will not be provided and be referred, transferred, or given information…” the bill reads in part.

The legislation was supported by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which opined that the measure was beneficial to ensure that patients’ requests are fulfilled despite the objections of others.

“Senate Bill 1564 ensures that each patient in Illinois now can be assured that they will have complete information, so that they can make the best medical decision for themselves and their families,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU of Illinois Reproductive Rights Project. “These medical decisions, we expect, will be guided by a patient’s individual condition and his or her personal beliefs.”

“Senate Bill 1564 means that when Illinois patients go into an exam room, they do not need to worry that they are being denied medical information based on their health care provider’s religious beliefs,” she said. “In short, this bill protects patients when health care providers exercise religious refusals.”

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But pro-life groups in the state saw the legislation as a threat to pro-life doctors and pregnancy care centers, as it could force medical staff to refer patients for an abortion. They launched telephone and correspondence campaigns to urge Rauner to veto the bill.

“When 2,865 faith-based health care professionals were surveyed, 91 percent of them stated they agreed with the following statement: ‘I would rather stop practicing medicine altogether than to be forced to violate my conscience.’ We can’t afford to drive good medical professionals out of Illinois simply because they decline to participate in abortion,” wrote Dr. Colleen Molloy and Emily Zender of Illinois Right to Life.

The Pro-Life Action League issued a statement on Friday after learning that Rauner had signed the bill into law.

“This is sad and tragic news. It will result in lawsuits filed against the State of Illinois, which is in a dismal financial state and can ill afford to take on legal battles that are unnecessary,” said Vice President Ann Scheidler. “The medical professionals in the state of Illinois deserve to practice their healing art within the freedom of conscience. The pro-life pregnancy centers should be protected from giving exactly the advice that goes against everything they stand for. They will not do it.”

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