Federal Court Halts Illinois Religious Refusals Law Believed to Require Abortion Referrals

ROCKFORD, Ill. — A federal court has granted a preliminary injunction against an Illinois law that several pregnancy care centers believed might force pro-life doctors to provide referrals to women seeking to obtain an abortion.

“Plaintiffs have … demonstrated a better than negligible chance of showing that a law compelling the health care provider with conscience-based objections to abortion to serve as the source of information about the legal treatment option of abortion and to serve as a directory of health care providers performing abortions is not narrowly
tailored to achieve a substantial government interest,” wrote U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala, appointed to the bench by then-President George W. Bush.

As previously reportedSenate Bill 1564, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), was introduced last year 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 read in part.

While groups like the ACLU supported the legislation, pro-life organizations in the state saw the measure 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 organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) therefore sent a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner to encourage a veto, but he signed the bill into law anyway.

In October, several crisis pregnancy centers and others filed suit to challenge the law. Included in the suit were the facilities Informed Choices, TLC Pregnancy Services, Maryville Women’s Center and Mosaic Pregnancy and Health Centers, as well as the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

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“The religious beliefs and consciences of Informed Choices, TLC, and Mosaic, and their medical director, staff, and volunteers, prohibit them from referring a patient for an abortion, transferring a patient to an abortion provider, or providing in writing information to the patient about other health care providers who they reasonably believe may offer the patient an abortion or abortion causing drugs or devices,” the legal complaint read.

“It would violate the religious and moral beliefs and conscience of Plaintiffs and their staff to comply with SB 1564 § 6.1(1)’s requirement that for every pregnant woman they treat, they must ‘inform’ her that abortion as a ‘legal treatment option,’ and that they must describe ‘benefits’ of abortion that they disagree with,” it stated.

On Wednesday, while removing Gov. Rauner from the suit as a defendant, Judge Kapala agreed that the pregnancy centers are likely to succeed in their claim that the law violates their First Amendment right to free, uncompelled speech.

“It is clear that the amended act targets the free speech rights of people who have a specific viewpoint. Thus, plaintiffs have demonstrated a better than negligible chance of succeeding in showing that the amended act discriminates based on their viewpoint by compelling them to tell their patients that abortion is a legal treatment option, which has benefits, and, at a minimum and upon request, to give their patients the identifying information of providers who will perform an abortion,” he wrote.

Pending the final outcome of the case, Kapala therefore enjoined the secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation from punishing any entity that objects to “describing abortion as a beneficial treatment option” or referring patients to those who perform the procedure.

“This decision correctly interprets the Constitution to prohibit compelled speech mandating faith-based ministries to speak a message with which they are fundamentally opposed,” remarked National Institute of Family and Life Advocates President Thomas Glessner in a statement. “We applaud this ruling that stops the state of Illinois from forcing pro-life pregnancy medical clinics to become abortion referral agencies.”

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