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Ill. gov. signs bill requiring Catholic hospitals to inform patients about alternative options; abortion-rights opponents file lawsuit

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) recently signed legislation (PA 099-0690) that requires hospitals to inform patients that they can go to another facility to receive medical services the hospital refuses to provide, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Moreno, AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/4).

The law 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 care or certain end-of-life services.

Specifically, the law requires hospitals to share the information about the 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/27).

Comments

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D), a lead sponsor of the legislation, praised Rauner's decision to sign the bill. He said the new law empowers patients to "get all the information so they can make a decision" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/4).

Separately, Ed Yohnka, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, also commended Rauner for signing the legislation. "When 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," he said, adding, "This is a good measure for all Illinois residents" (Sfondeles, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5).

Abortion-rights opponents challenge new law

Last week, following Rauner's decision to sign the bill, two organizations and a physician who oppose abortion rights filed suit over the legislation, the Rockford Register Star reports (Poulisse, Rockford Register Star, 8/5).

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit on behalf of Pregnancy Care Center, a crisis pregnancy center (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. Defendants include Rauner and Bryan Schneider, the secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim the law violates the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1998 and the Illinois Constitution's Free Speech Protections. They also allege that the law violates the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and federal rights to freedom of religion. In a letter to Rauner sent in May, the Alliance Defending Freedom claimed the legislation could endanger the state's Medicaid funding by violating federal law.

The plaintiffs claim that their religious beliefs bar them from providing referrals to a woman seeking abortion care, transferring a woman seeking abortion care to an abortion provider or submitting a woman's medical records to an abortion provider. The plaintiffs argue that a woman seeking abortion care can use other resources to find an abortion provider, such as internet searches or phone books at a library (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5).