Illinois Sued Over Medical Law on Religious Refusals Believed to Require Abortion Referrals

Surgery Credit Fernando Audibert-compressedSPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The state of Illinois has been sued over a newly passed law that mandates referrals for those who decline procedures for religious reasons, as it raises concerns that pro-life doctors may be forced to provide referrals and information about obtaining an abortions.

As previously reportedSenate 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. The religious liberties legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner to encourage a veto. Pro-life groups likewise launched telephone and correspondence campaigns to urge Rauner to reject the bill.

“By violating the pro-life and religious principles of pro-life physicians and medical organizations, SB 1564 would deprive Illinois women of their choice of a medical provider that does not refer or arrange for abortions in any way,” the letter from ADF read.

“The federal government has long declared that states cannot receive federal funding if they rob women of the right to choose a pro-life doctor by forcing pro-life physicians and entities to refer or arrange for abortions,” it continued. “Separately, Hyde-Weldon prohibits states that receive certain federal funding from requiring physicians or health care entities to refer for abortions.”

“SB 1564 blatantly violates these federal conscience statutes, and would put at risk all of Illinois’ federal funding—including reimbursements under such programs as Medicaid,” ADF outlined.

But Rauner signed the bill into law anyway, and ADF has now consequently filed suit. It announced the legal challenge on Friday.

“Pro-life health care professionals shouldn’t be forced to hand out lists describing how to contact abortionists, yet that’s what this law mandates that they do,” said Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot in a statement. “If this profane amendment to Illinois’ conscience protection law remains on the books, doctors and medical staff committed to saving all lives will be forced to promote the killing of some children, women will lose access to doctors who unconditionally value human life, and pregnancy resource centers that offer free help and hope to pregnant women will be forced to refer to abortionists.

“This is the kind of government coercion that the state constitution, the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the very law that was amended were all designed to prevent,” he said.

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