Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

A recently enacted law amending Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HRC Act) is the subject of a new lawsuit claiming the change unlawfully limits the conscience rights of health care personnel by requiring them to refer patients to other providers for procedures they object to on religious grounds.

SB 1564 requires health care facilities to develop protocols that refers or transfers patients to, or informs them about “health care providers who they reasonably believe may offer the health care service the health care facility, physician, or health personnel refuses to permit, perform, or participate in because of a conscience-based objection.” The amendment was designed to ensure that health care personnel with religious objections could refrain from providing objectionable services but not deny patients access to such services. 

The lawsuit, filed by ADF yesterday, argues that the requirement amounts to a violation of the plaintiff health care providers’ religious freedom rights under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as violating free speech and free exercise provisions of the Illinois Constitution.

Here is an excerpt from the complaint:

SB 1564, the Defendants, and the State have no compelling governmental interest to require Plaintiffs and their facilities and health care personnel to provide women information about other medical providers that is readily available to any patient by running an internet search or looking in any print or online phone directory.

The HRC Act underlying SB 1564 provides an important governmental benefit to Plaintiffs by protecting them from liability and governmental retaliation for abiding by their religious convictions and refusing to participate in abortion.

SB 1564 and its amendments to the HRC Act condition those benefits upon the forfeiture of Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs that prohibit them from referring for, or providing information regarding how to obtain, abortions.

The ACLU of Illinois supported the legislation, saying “[w]hen Illinois patients go into an exam room, they need no longer worry that they are being denied medical information based on their health care provider’s religious belief…”

The limits of conscience protections and referral requirements have become a hotly contested area of religious liberty law. Whether this suit turns on the free exercise or free speech claims will be important and fascinating to follow. Stay tuned.