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Pritzker signs ban on using moral objections to avoid ‘life-saving’ COVID-19 requirements — but GOP rivals blast more ‘tyrannical rule’

The governor contends some have been improperly skirting COVID-19 requirements by using a 1998 law designed to protect health care providers who refuse to perform medical procedures — such as abortions — that they’re opposed to. But GOP rivals denounced the Democratic governor as a “despot” signing “scary legislation.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation in 2019 at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation in 2019 at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
Amr Alfiky/AP file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed a controversial amendment that bars the use of moral objections as a reason for refusing to comply with workplace COVID-19 requirements, including those for vaccines or testing.

Pritzker, who was in Glasgow, Scotland, as of Monday morning for the United Nation’s climate change conference, COP26, signed the amendment to the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act at the request of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

The amendment passed the General Assembly a week and half ago.

“Masks, vaccines, and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Keeping workplaces safe is a high priority, and I applaud the General Assembly for ensuring that the Health Care Right of Conscience Act is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives an update on COVID-19 pediatric vaccinations during a news conference, last month.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives an update on COVID-19 pediatric vaccinations during a news conference, last month.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The act, on the books since 1998, was originally designed to protect doctors, nurses and other health care providers who refused to perform medical procedures — such as abortions — that they’re opposed to. The new language seeks to clarify that the right of conscience objection does not apply to COVID-19 requirements.

Pritzker and other Illinois Democrats argue that, during the pandemic, the act has been improperly invoked by some seeking to skirt testing, vaccine and masking mandates at work.

The amendment would help protect an employer’s ability to implement those requirements. It still allows for religious or medical objections.

State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, who filed the amendment to the Illinois law, called the governor’s signing of the legislation a “critical action to protect people in high-risk environments ... from the dangers of COVID-19.”

State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, speaks on the House floor last month.
State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, speaks on the House floor last month.
Blue Room Stream file

“While this law will not take away anyone’s right to claim exemptions based on religion or medical need, it prevents a small group of people from distorting the meaning of the Health Care Right of Consciousness Act and putting some of our most vulnerable members of society in danger,” Gabel said in a statement. “I would like to thank Governor Pritzker for the steps he’s taking today.”

But Pritzker’s Republican rivals in the governor’s race denounced the amendment as “scary legislation” and another example of the Chicago Democrat’s “tyrannical rule.”

“He continues to strip individual freedoms and make decisions that should be between an individual and their doctor,” said state Sen. Darren Bailey of downstate Xenia. “A few months ago we called healthcare workers heroes [but] now Pritzker wants to ensure they can be fired if they don’t submit to his tyrannical rule.

“These never-ending mandates and radical attacks by Pritzker on individual freedom must stop.”

The campaign of venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan argued the Health Care Right of Conscience Act was in place to “ensure no one could be discriminated against in their job because of their conscientious objection to not getting a medical procedure.

“Over 50,000 Illinoisans filed witness slips against this radical change,” according to Sullivan’s campaign statement. “Nevertheless, Pritzker pushed ahead, once again demonstrating his disregard for the will of the people. Jesse Sullivan opposes this scary legislation.”

Republican businessman Gary Rabine, left; state Sen. Darren Bailey, center; Republican venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, right.
Republican businessman Gary Rabine, left; state Sen. Darren Bailey, center; Republican venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, right.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file; Facebook; Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times file

Suburban businessman Gary Rabine said the “idea that employers can mandate a vaccine and be protected from lawsuits ought to frighten us all. ... Governor Pritzker may not like the choices people make, but he should respect their right to make decisions for themselves.”

The Bull Valley Republican gubernatorial candidate argued “our individual rights and freedoms were dealt a major setback today.

“Illinois does not need a despot. The residents of our state need and deserve a Governor who will listen to them and treat them with dignity and respect.”