Anti-abortion centers, doctor sue Rauner over ‘conscience’ law
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Gov. Bruce Rauner is being sued by a women’s health non-profit, a Rockford medical center and a Downers Grove physician who claim a bill he signed last week that ensures that doctors inform their pregnant patients of all options – including abortion — is unconstitutional.
Rauner last week signed into law the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which ensures patients are notified of all their options, and in some cases, given referrals if needed to go to another doctor or facility, even if it conflicts with the religious beliefs of doctors or others working at the centers.
The bill requires that doctors who are unwilling to perform or participate in abortions, or other procedures, such as sterilization, provide a referral for another doctor or another medical center in a timely manner. It also requires them to provide a list of other providers who may offer abortion services if they can’t offer a referral.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the plaintiffs, including Dr. Anthony Caruso, who practices medicine in Downers Grove at the Bella Baby OBGYN center, as well as the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford and Aid for Women, a Chicago non-profit that runs six pregnancy help centers and two residential programs.
Rauner and Bryan Schneider, secretary of the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, are listed as defendants.
Caruso is pro-life and pro-fertility, according to the suit, and aligns himself with the “ethical medical principles” of the Hippocratic Oath and the Catholic Church. He also serves as the medical director for various anti-abortion pregnancy centers in Crystal Lake, Grayslake and La Grange.
At the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford, providers give “help and pro-life information to women in unplanned pregnancies so that they will be supported in choosing to give birth, and provides practical medical or non-medical support free of charge in support of the Center’s pro-life viewpoint,” the suit says.
The suit suggests the center’s officials’ religious beliefs prohibit them from referring a patient for abortion, transferring them to a place that will perform an abortion or giving their medical records to others who may perform an abortion.
The suit claims patients can find their own doctors who may perform the abortion via “Internet searches and phone directories in print and online available near PCCR and throughout Rockford and Winnebago County.”
The suit also lists establishments near the center, including a library, where patients can instead “ask to see a phone book, be allowed to look at the yellow pages and find therein a list of doctors that may provide abortions.”
The suit claims the bill violates the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1998, and violates Free Speech Protections of the Illinois Constitution by being “forced to speak” about services that are against their own beliefs. It also claims the bill violates the Freedom of Religion, and the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to Rauner in May on behalf of anti-abortion doctors and medical centers advising him that the bill would violate federal law and place federal funding, including Medicaid reimbursement in jeopardy. The lawyers argue the law forces doctors to make arrangements for referrals for abortion in violation of federal conscience laws, putting the state’s federal health funding at risk.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois applauded the bill’s passage, saying Rauner took an important step to protect patients in Illinois. Earlier this year, legislators heard testimony from patients who said they were denied information about abortions, which placed their health at risk.
“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,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said after the bill became law. “This is a good measure for all Illinois residents.”
The bill’s final language was formed by a compromise among the ACLU, the Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Care Association and the Illinois State Medical Society. The Catholic Conference of Illinois first opposed the bill, but then declared its neutrality after negotiations on the bill’s language.