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Antiabortion-rights providers seek to block Ill. referral law

A Circuit Court judge in Illinois on Wednesday heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging an amendment (PA 099-0690) to the state's Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, the Rockford Register Star reports (Zambo, Rockford Register Star, 12/8).

The amended law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Law details

The amendment changes the state's Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which allows institutions and employees to refuse to provide certain services because of ethical and religious reasons. According to experts, objections under the law can include opposition to providing contraception, gender transition-related care or certain end-of-life services. Specifically, the law requires hospitals to share information about other health care facilities with a patient in writing, or refer or transfer the patient to that facility.

Hospitals would only have to provide the information if a patient requested the denied service. Under the law, hospitals are not required to confirm that other facilities provide the unmet services; they only need to have "reasonable belief" that they do.

The change applies to all hospitals in the state. However, the law has particular relevance for Catholic-affiliated hospitals, which handle about 25 percent of all admissions in the state.

Legal challenges

In August, after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed the amendment, two CPCs and a physician who opposes abortion rights filed suit over the legislation. The Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit on behalf of Pregnancy Care Center, a CPC in Rockford, Illinois; Aid for Women, a Chicago-based not-for-profit that operates six CPCs and two residential programs; and Anthony Caruso, a physician who works at A Bella Baby OBGYN and serves as medical director for several CPCs in the state (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3).

The lawsuit seeks to bar the state from penalizing any physician or medical center staff member who opts not to comply with the amended law because of their personal objection to abortion rights (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/9).

In October, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Tri-County Crisis Pregnancy Center, the Life Center, Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers and Tina Gingrich, a physician who works at the Maryville Women's Center and serves as the medical director of Mosaic (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3). An initial hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled for next month.

Oral arguments

Judge Eugene Doherty this week heard arguments in the lawsuit involving Pregnancy Care Center, Aid for Women and Caruso (Rockford Register Star, 12/8).

During the arguments, Matt Bowman, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, claimed that the amended law violates antiabortion-rights providers' right to free speech (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/9). In addition, he claimed the state had not adequately demonstrated that women are harmed by not receiving such information from their providers.

Assistant Attorney General Sarah Newman defended the amended law. She explained that "[t]he statute ... is only triggered if the person asks for the information."

Further, Newman said professional speech can be regulated. According to Newman, the law was amended "to make sure that the patient's rights are not trampled on because of ... religious objection[s]."

Doherty did not immediately issue a ruling, but he said he could reach a decision before the next status hearing, scheduled for Dec. 28 (Rockford Register Star, 12/8).