Illinois controversy about legislative overreach

 Catholic bishops withdraw opposition, others remain opposed

Confrontation centres on complicity

Sean Murphy*


Among American states, Illinois has the most comprehensive protection of conscience legislation, the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA). In 2009 an attempt was made to nullify the Act with respect to abortion, contraception and related procedures by introducing HB 2354 (Reproductive Health and Access Act), but the bill died in committee two years later.1 Now it appears that the HRCA may be changed by Senate Bill 1564. Critics say the bill tramples upon physician freedom of conscience,2 while the bill’s supporters, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claim that the bill is “about making sure no one is withholding information from the patient.”3

SB 1564 was actually drafted by the ACLU,3 but it was introduced by Illinois Senator Daniel Biss. He said that the amendments were partly in response to the case of a woman who was miscarrying over several weeks, but who was refused “diagnosis or options” in the hospital where she had sought treatment.4  Senator Bliss was apparently referring to the story of Mindy Swank, who testified before a Senate legislative panel about her experience.  The Illinois Times reported that she suffered “a dangerous, weeks-long miscarriage” because of the refusal of Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.5

Unfortunately, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee does not record or transcribe its hearings, and conflicting news reports make it difficult to determine exactly what happened at some critical points in her story.  Moreover, it appears that the Committee did not hear from the hospitals and physicians who were involved with Ms. Swank, so we are left with a one-sided account of what took place.6

Nonetheless, as a first step in considering the particulars of the bill and the controversy it has engendered, it is appropriate to review the evidence offered to support it.  We will begin with Mindy Swank’s testimony, even if some details are lacking, and then examine the experience of Angela Valavanis, a second case put forward by the ACLU to justify SB 1564.7  [Full Text]

Project advisor awarded honour by state of Indiana

Dr. Shahid Athar receives Golden Hoosier Award

Dr. Shahid Athar, who has been an advisor to the Project from its inception, has received the state of Indiana’s Golden Hoosier Award.

Indiana has annually honoured selected senior citizens for their lifetime of service and commitment to their communities since 2008. The Golden Hoosier Award is considered one of the highest honours given by the State of Indiana to senior citizens.

Dr. Athar was nominated by Pastor Jerry Zehr and Razzi Nalim.  The award citation states:

Dr. Shahid Athar serves his community as a volunteer physician for Indianapolis’s homeless, HIV patients and other individuals who may not be able to afford medical treatment.  In addition, he serves as a board member for the Protection of Conscience Project, St. Vincent Ethical Committee, and the Islamic Medical Association of North America.  Most notably, Dr. Athar is known for his advocacy of interfaith as a way to overcome terrorism and to help Hoosier Muslims deal with the negative fallout of the attacks on September 11, 2001.  Dr. Athar is highly regarded among his peers and his community.  Whether he is providing professional medical care for the needy, or presenting on interfaith, he always leads by example and with compassion for others.  His generosity has left a lasting impression on Hoosiers of all faiths.

The term “Hoosier” means a resident of Indiana.

In Illinois, Bishops and Pro-Life Groups Differ on ACLU Conscience Bill

National Catholic Register

Peter Jesserer Smith

Both parties don’t like the pro-abortion-rights organization’s bill, but the Illinois Catholic Conference is standing neutral while local pro-life groups campaign against it in the state legislature.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A battle is under way over conscience rights and health care in the Illinois Legislature that has pro-life groups on one side, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood on the other, and the Illinois Catholic Conference standing neutral on the sidelines.

The ACLU of Illinois has proposed a change to Illinois’ broad legal protections for the conscience rights of health-care workers with S.B. 1564, which has already passed the state senate, but whose defeat the pro-life groups are urging in the state house.

If health-care facilities or personnel decline to provide services for reasons of conscience — such as abortions or sterilizations — the bill’s protocols would require them either to make referrals for such services or to provide information about other places where they are likely to be available. [Full Text]

An Open Letter to the Illinois Legislature

The state should vote down a bill that would trample on citizen conscience rights

National Review

Robert P. George

To the members of the Illinois Legislature:

I understand that you are considering passing SB 1564, a bill to amend the existing laws of Illinois that protect freedom of conscience. I urge you not to do so, as SB 1564 fatally weakens the conscience rights of Illinois citizens.

SB 1564 would amend existing law to, among other things, add a new section regarding “access to care and information protocols.” This section would require “health care facilities, physicians, and health care personnel” who are opposed for reasons of conscience to performing an abortion to, nevertheless, “refer, transfer, or give information . . . about other health care providers who they reasonably believe may offer . . . the . . . service,” which includes abortion. In so providing, SB 1564 violates elementary notions of conscience protection.. . [Full text]

After Hobby Lobby: What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?

Address at the pre-conference session, ‘After Hobby Lobby: What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?’

2015 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference
“Law, Religion, and Health in America,”
Harvard Law School

  Frank R. Wolf, *

. . . As we ponder, “What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?”, I am reminded of a profound quote from one of Virginia’s native sons.

Founding Father James Madison once opined, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” And as it relates to our discussion today, I maintain that conscience is most assuredly God’s.

In that vein, I’d like to begin with a personal story which serves as a window into my own conscience.

On the opening day of a new Congress, the vote for Speaker is the first vote held, and it is always by voice vote. Each Member’s name is called out, and he or she shouts out the name of their party leader.

On January 7, 1997 – the opening day of the 105th Congress – we were voting on the reelection of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.

Newt was then under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. The House Democratic whip, David Bonior, had filed most of the eighty-four ethics charges against him, which ranged from accusations that Newt had misused tax-exempt funds to criticism over a lucrative advance he was offered by HarperCollins to write two books.

Eighty-three of the eighty-four charges were ultimately dropped.

However at the time of the vote, the Ethics Committee report had not yet been published.

I felt that I could not, in good conscience, vote for Newt as Speaker until I had seen the report. This turned out to be a very controversial decision.  [Full text]

Opposition Mounting Against “Right of Conscience” Act

Alton Daily News, WBGZ radio

John Gregory

Anti-abortion groups are marshaling opposition to a bill which would amend the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act.  The bill to amend the law would require medical providers to provide information and referrals on treatment options they don’t provide based on personal beliefs, like abortion. State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) labels the bill as activism disguised as legislation.  “This is simply an intrusion on people of faith, people of conviction, and the Right of Conscience (Act), no one’s told me how it’s not working,” Sandack said. [Full text]


Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance Urges House Defeat of SB 1564

Bill Violates Rights of Doctors, Women and Creates Legal Liabilities

News Release

Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance

Contact: Tom Ciesielka, 312-422-1333, 312-403-1333 cell,

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., May 4, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ — A coalition of Illinois and national leaders focused on protecting women’s health and life are calling upon Illinois State Representatives to defeat Senate Bill 1564, which seeks to amend the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. SB 1564 will dilute and undermine the current, federally compliant law as detailed in a bipartisan U.S. Congressional letter.

WHEN: Tuesday, May 5, 2015, 12 p.m. noon (CENTRAL)

WHAT: Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance press conference urging an Illinois House defeat of SB 1564.

WHERE: Blue Room, Illinois State Capitol Building, 401 S 2nd Street, Springfield, IL 62701; Map

ONLINE STREAMING: (for subscribers)

Choose 05-05-2015 LIVE 12:00 p.m. Rep. Morrison Press Conference (SB 1564 Health Care Right of Conscience) Blue Room Springfield


• Dr. Mary Keen, MD, president of the Chicago guild of the Catholic Medical Association, will discuss how SB 1564 tramples on doctors’ rights of conscience.

• Debbie Shultz, executive director of Lifetime Pregnancy Help Center in Springfield, will speak to why it is imperative that the rights of conscience of those working at pro-life pregnancy centers not be violated by SB 1564.

• Illinois House Representative Ron Sandack (R – Downers Grove) will explain why he is voting against SB 1564 and is encouraging his legislative peers to vote against it as well.

• Attorney Anna Paprocki, staff counsel at Americans United for Life, will address SB 1564’s devastating legal implications for Illinois.

WHY: Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance is urging an Illinois House defeat of SB 1564 because…

Doctors’ rights of conscience are trampled on. SB 1564 would require doctors to facilitate abortions for any reason, and at any stage of pregnancy, despite their conscientious and professional objections. Illinois’ existing conscience law already ensures patient safety is not compromised by clarifying that a physician is not relieved from a duty to “inform his or her patient of the patient’s condition, prognosis, and risks…” The current law also clearly provides that healthcare personnel are not relieved from “obligations under the law of providing emergency medical care.”

Dr. Mary Keen, MD, will speak to this issue. Keen is the medical director of Pediatric Rehabilitation at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, clinical associate professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and attending physician in the Departments of Pediatrics and Orthopedic Surgery Section of Rehabilitation Medicine. Keen is also president of the Chicago guild of the Catholic Medical Association.

The rights of those working at pro-life pregnancy centers are trampled on. SB 1564 would require pregnancy center workers to violate their core mission by referring women for abortions or distributing information on where to obtain abortions. Pregnancy centers that exist to offer women alternatives to abortions are healthcare providers bound by the bill’s coercive duties to promote abortions. SB 1564 would force pregnancy centers to discuss the so-called “benefits” of abortions and provide information on where to obtain abortions.

Debbie Shultz, executive director of Lifetime Pregnancy Help Center in Springfield, will speak to why it is imperative that the rights of conscience of those working at pro-life pregnancy centers not be violated by SB 1564.

Illinois becomes rife with new legal liabilities. SB 1564 jeopardizes Illinois’ federal funding including, but not limited to, the federal share of Medicaid. It violates longstanding federal conscience laws, including the Church Amendment, the Coats-Snowe Amendment, and the Hyde-Weldon Amendment. SB 1564’s requirements that healthcare providers “provide in writing information,” “transfer,” or “refer” patients for treatments to which they object, are incompatible with these federal laws. Violating these laws would seriously imperil the state’s federal funding for health-related services, which is expressly conditioned on compliance with these federal conscience laws.

Attorney Anna Paprocki will speak to this issue. Paprocki is staff counsel at Americans United for Life and a resident of Illinois. She has been interviewed about rights of conscience in a variety of news sources including National Review Online, Politico, Washington Times, Touchstone Magazine, World Magazine, National Catholic Register, Fox News, CBN, ABC News, CBS News, and NPR.

Illinois House Representative Ron Sandack (R – Downers Grove) will also address the media to emphasize why SB 1564 is a bad choice for Illinois.

Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance represents the following Illinois citizen organizations, physicians, and medical pregnancy center organizations, and national physician and pregnancy center organizations with Illinois members:

Illinois Citizens for Life

Illinois Family Institute

Illinois Federation for Right to Life

Illinois Right to Life

Family PAC

Lake County Right to Life

• Dr. Anthony J. Caruso, MD MPH, Downers Grove OB/GYN,

• Dr. L. Carl Jurgens, MD, OB Hospitalist, Rockford Health Physicians

• Dr. Mary Keen, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Loyola University Medical Center

• Dr. Robert C. Lawler, MD, Downers Grove OB/GYN

• Dr. Richard G. Moutvic, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology

• Dr. Joseph J. Kash, MD, Medical Director, Waterleaf, Edward Cancer Center

Aid for Women

Woman’s Choice Services


Informed Choices

Relevant Pregnancy Resource Center

The Women’s Centers of Greater Chicagoland, Ltd.

Freeport Pregnancy Center

• Pregnancy Resource Center

We Care Pregnancy Clinic

Options Now Medical Pregnancy Center

Lifetime Pregnancy Resource Center

Community Hope Center

Life Network of Southern Illinois

Alliance Defending Freedom

American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Americans United for Life

Care Net

Heartbeat International,


The text of SB 1546

Bi-partisan U.S. Congressional letter outlining how Illinois SB 1564 violates federal funding

Analysis of the bill by staff counsel Anna Paprocki of Americans United for Life

Letter from Pregnancy Resource Centers and OB/GYNs against SB 1564

Americans United for Life staff counsel Anna Paprocki’s response to an op-ed promoting the bill

About the Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance

The Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance is a coalition of Illinois and national leaders who have come together to protect women’s health and life in Illinois. Represented by two national public interest law firms, the Illinois Women’s Health and Life Alliance is comprised of thirty Illinois citizen organizations, physicians, and medical pregnancy center organizations, and national physician and pregnancy center associations with Illinois members.