Does an Illinois bill threaten doctors’ conscience rights? Depends on whom you ask

Catholic News Agency

Matt Hadro

Springfield, Ill., May 29, 2015 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Illinois bill that some say threatens the conscience rights of medical providers is currently under consideration in the state’s general assembly.

Catholics and pro-lifers are divided among themselves over the implications of SB 1564 for the conscience rights of medical providers.

While the state’s Catholic Conference is neutral on the bill, the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom states that it “would force medical facilities and physicians who conscientiously object to involvement in abortions (and other procedures) to refer for, make arrangements for someone else to perform, or arrange referral information that lists willing providers, for abortions.” . . . [Full text]


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]

Americans United for Life Celebrates Win for Illinois Conscience Rights in Case AUL Championed Since 2005


Americans United for Life

“This decision has dramatic implications for all people of faith who object to being forced to throw aside their convictions to support an anti-life agenda,” said AUL’s Dr. Charmaine Yoest

WASHINGTON, D.C. (12-11-12) – After seven years in court, the decision by the Illinois Attorney General not to file an appeal in Morr-Fitz vs. Quinn means that Illinois pharmacists finally cannot be forced to dispense life-ending drugs against their Rights of Conscience. Those rights are protected under the Illinois Health Care Rights of Conscience Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the U.S. Constitution. Americans United for Life attorneys have been engaged in the case since 2005, defending the freedoms of pharmacists Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog, representing their interests in court along with several Illinois pharmacies owned by them.

“This is a tremendous victory. Rights of conscience are under assault today and this case is a rebuke to those who argue that the government can violate the First Amendment Rights of Americans by forcing them to advance an anti-life agenda. This includes the abortion industry which aggressively supported the coercive mandate in Illinois and is arguing for similar measures in other states,” said Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest.

In 2005, AUL filed a lawsuit challenging a rule issued by then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich forcing pharmacists and pharmacies to dispense so-called “emergency contraceptives” “without delay.”  At that point, then-Director of AUL’s Center for Rights of Conscience Ed Martin was lead counsel in the case along with AUL Staff Counsel Mailee Smith.  When the suit was filed, Martin noted:

“Luke Vander Bleek is suing to protect his rights as an American — his right to build a business, contribute to society as a health care professional, and to live according to his principles.  The Governor is trampling the rights of health care professionals and small business owners through his emergency rule.”

AUL Advisory Board member, Mark L. Rienzi, law professor at Catholic University and Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund, took over the case in 2006.

“We are delighted with the decision,” said Rienzi. “The government should not have tried to force these pharmacists out of business for their religious objection to selling a small handful of drugs.  Over seven years of litigation, there was never a shred of proof that a religious objection at a pharmacy harmed anyone.  These pharmacists do a wonderful job serving their communities, and the state’s decision not to appeal lets them get back to that important work.”

Over the course of the litigation, AUL filed three amicus briefs in the case. Two were filed before the Illinois Supreme Court and argued that both federal and Illinois law protected pharmacists’ freedom of conscience, that freedom of conscience is an historic right “steeped in the history and tradition” of America, and that the post-fertilization effect of “emergency contraception” is objectionable to many pharmacists who also should be free to exercise their First Amendment Rights of Conscience.

For more on this case, and AUL’s involvement, click here.

Obama Administration Puts an Expiration Date on Freedom of Conscience

Americans United for Life
Friday, January 20th, 2012
Reproduced with permission

Anna Franzonello

Today the Obama Administration added insult to injury, announcing that it would give some religious nonprofits an additional year to “adapt” to its coercive mandate that nearly all insurance plans provide coverage for the abortion-inducing drug ella. Essentially, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that these employers have one more year to get their priorities straight and align their consciences with the anti-life agenda of the Obama Administration.

Secretary Sebelius stated the “extension” for nonprofit groups with a religious-based objection to providing coverage for “contraception,” was “the appropriate balance” for “respecting religious freedom.”

Putting an expiration date on the freedom of conscience is not a “balance”; it is an utter denial of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Despite numerous comments to HHS (including from Americans United for Life) and pending litigation noting that the Obama Administration’s mandate to pay for drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action—including the abortion-inducing drug ella – is unconstitutional, against current federal and state conscience protections, and directly contrary to the stated intent of the “preventive care” provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama Administration is standing by its coercive mandate, eviscerating the freedom of conscience and freedom of choice for pro-life Americans.

Even the one year extension of constitutional rights announced by HHS is inappropriately limited in who it applies to.

Only nonprofit employers who do not currently, as of today, offer “contraceptive” coverage –for religious based reasons— are eligible. This is problematic in several ways.

First, the Obama Administration’s mandate is expansive: insurance plans must cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, which includes ella a so-called “emergency contraceptive” which can “work” by killing a human embryo even after implantation. Secretary Sebelius’ statement in no way indicates that an employer who has a conscientious objection to providing coverage for a drug such as ella, but perhaps not other FDA-labeled contraceptives, is allowed a year “to adapt” its conscience. Rather, she stated that only nonprofit employers who do not provide, generally, “contraceptive coverage” are eligible for the extension.

Second, this certainly excludes any employer who may not know its plan currently provides coverage for drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action, such as ella (a drug that was only approved in August 2010, after the passage of the ACA). Should you discover later that a morally objectionable item or service is in your coverage, or if you were currently in the process of negotiating it out of your plan: too bad, so sad.

Third, and importantly, freedom of religion is a core American principle, but it is important the concept of conscience not be narrowly defined as a religious. Non-religiously affiliated persons and institutions (whether nonprofits of for-profits) have consciences that can likewise be violated by mandates and coercive participation in healthcare services that violate their consciences nonetheless.

Conscience is at the heart of the American experience. Most Americans recognize the religious freedom found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. What Americans may not realize is that an early draft of the Amendment written by James Madison included the following: “The Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext infringed.” Though not included in the final version, it is fair to say that it was assumed by the Founders to be included therein.

Further, even those religious nonprofits who qualify for a one-year extension will be, according to Secretary Sebelius, required to “state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.” Thus, part of the Obama Administration’s “adapting” process is to facilitate—regardless of any conscientious concern in doing so—obtaining the drugs and devices to which the religious nonprofits object.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s announcement today clarifies that it will not consider the legitimate and serious concerns of pro-life Americans who conscientiously object to paying for drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action, including the abortion-inducing drug ella. Once again, for Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration, its anti-life agenda trumps basic constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

AULA Calls for strong conscience clause protection for medical professionals

“No longer should the civil rights of medical professionals be held hostage to political interests,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest.


Americans United for Life

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Americans United for Life president and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest noted that the Obama Administration had rescinded almost all of the regulation protecting conscience rights for medical professionals – except the provision to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“AUL predicted that the rights of conscience of medical professionals could be violated without stronger protections,” said Dr. Yoest. “This must come to an end. No longer should the civil rights of medical professionals be held hostage to political interests.” She continued: “Today the Obama Administration acknowledged that it is a civil right not to participate in an abortion, but in the same breath weakened federal regulations designed to protect that right. This underscores the necessity for Congressional action; health care providers must have an effective means to enforce their rights written in the law. The protection of the basic civil right to provide care without participating in life-destructive activities must not be dependent on the whims of an Administration that has made expanding abortion central to its mission.”

The Obama Administration received more than 300,000 comments when it announced in 2009 that it intended to rescind regulations enacted under the Bush Administration to uphold federal conscience protection laws. Nearly two-thirds of those comments expressed opposition to rescinding the conscience-protecting regulations.

For more information or interviews, contact Kristi Hamrick