Illinois’ Right of Conscience Violations Sent to Federal Office of Civil Rights

The Thomas More Society filed a Civil Rights Discrimination Complaint on January 4, 2018 with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. The complaint is over an Illinois law that forces doctors and pregnancy centers to make referrals for abortions, even if they have sincerely-held religious convictions against doing so. HHS Office for Civil Rights

The complaint is lodged against the State of Illinois for its enactment of Illinois Public Act 99-690. The filing charges that the law, previously known as Senate Bill 1564, amends the 1977 Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, “in ways that gut its protection of state and federal conscience rights.”

The Thomas More Society is acting on behalf of Dr. Jim Gallant, M.D., and Hope Life Center, a pregnancy help center in Sterling, Illinois. The Office of Civil Rights is being asked to investigate this claim of religious discrimination and to take appropriate action to prevent Illinois’ application of this law to Gallant, Hope Life Center, and similarly situated health care providers in Illinois, who cannot comply with the amendment because of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Gallant and Hope Life Center provide pro-bono assistance to women, including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and consultations. P.A. 99-690 mandates that they must present abortion as an option, discuss its “benefits,” and provide referrals to abortion facilities. This directive is completely contrary to their reason for existence, which is to provide life affirming alternatives to abortion. The Civil Rights Discrimination Complaint requests enforcement of multiple federal laws that prohibit states from passing laws that seek to force health care providers to violate their religious convictions.

Thomas Olp, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the Thomas More Society, noted that both federal and state courts have issued injunctions temporarily preventing Illinois from enforcing this law while litigation is pending. He added that the complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights is a strategic step in the ongoing battle against P.A. 99-690, and that it complements the pending federal and state litigation. He explained, “We believe that P.A. 99-690 violates several federal laws that protect the conscience rights of physicians and other healthcare providers. But some courts have held that only the federal government, not individual citizens, can enforce these laws. Our administrative action is designed to trigger enforcement action by the federal government. We are hopeful the Trump administration will act on the pro-active pro-life principles it has articulated since the President took office.”  

Debbie Case, Executive Director of Hope Life Center, anticipates tragic consequences if P.A. 99-690 is not revoked. “Since 1986, we have been serving women in our community with free, no-strings-attached education and medical services. We provide these services from a sincere compassion and concern for women facing unexpected pregnancy,” Case explained. “Our ability to care for these women is threatened by this overreaching law. It would be a tragedy for women to lose access to our services because of discriminatory sanctions imposed upon us in violation of our civil rights.”

Read the Civil Rights Discrimination Complaint filed by the Thomas More Society with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services on January 4, 2018, here