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Conscience-based objectors sue Illinois over law requiring them to inform patients of 'benefits' of abortion

30 June 2017 | by Catholic News Service

Under the amended Health Care Right of Conscience Act, health care providers must discuss "the risks and benefits of legal treatment options"

Pro-life physicians and crisis pregnancy centres in the US have filed a case in state and federal court against an Illinois law that specifically requires those with a conscientious objection to abortion to give their patients information about abortion providers and what the state calls the "benefits" of an abortion.

The physicians and crisis pregnancy centres approached the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that primarily represents people in the pro-life movement. Thomas Olp, senior counsel and the Chicago-based society's co-executive director, is representing the plaintiffs in this case.

"We represent over 20 medical pregnancy centres in Illinois who basically came to us saying, 'We cannot comply with this law,'" Olp told Catholic News Service in a phone interview.

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act gave doctors the option of not participating in procedures to which they had a conscientious objection. Public Act 99-690, passed in 2016, amended the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, requiring health care providers to discuss "the risks and benefits of legal treatment options."

Olp explained that "legal" is shorthand for procedures such as abortion, sterilisation and contraception. The bill requires doctors to supply information on providers of these options. Providing the names and addresses of abortion facilities is akin to providing the patient with a referral, Olp explained.

"We were aware of this bill," Olp told CNS. "It was in the legislative hopper for a couple of years, 2015 and 2016."

Signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016, the law went into effect on 1 January, 2017. The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit "right away," according to Olp, and the judge issued a narrow injunction only for the parties before the court.

The Thomas More Society filed for injunctive relief on 9 February on behalf of 18 not-for-profit pregnancy resource centres, and filed an action for two others on 2 February. The Thomas More Society filed suit in federal court on 16 March on behalf of a physician and two pro-life pregnancy resource centres.

The law targets only conscience-based objectors rather than applying to all physicians in the state.

"Our understanding is that the powers that be, the pro-choice forces out in society, they want to curtail the right of a pro-life physician or provider to extract themselves, to take themselves away from these kinds of issues," Olp said.

The state of Illinois argues that providing this information is simply meeting the standard of care, citing ethical guidelines that have been published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

"Those ethical standards do not define the medical standard of care and the standard of informed consent," Olp said. "We believe that the standard of informed consent is about medical treatments, not elective treatments. What the law does, it now requires that such elective procedures now be dealt with as no different from medically needed treatment options."

This discrepancy, Olp explained, is based on different views of the role of physicians. On one side are those who see the physician as a provider of any services demanded by the patient. The other side, Olp argued, takes the approach of the Hippocratic oath, viewing the physician as focused on the good of the patient.

"We shouldn't have to be required to talk about abortion when we're dealing with a healthy pregnancy," Olp said.

By requiring physicians to provide information on abortion, Olp argued that Public Act 99-690 involves compelled speech, which violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment. Furthermore, Olp indicated that the law violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment that protects religious liberty.

Olp said that lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked for a preliminary injunction in both the state and federal cases, hoping for a summer state hearing and a federal hearing later this summer. Olp explained that out of approximately 100 pregnancy centres in Illinois, about half offer medical services such as pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases.

PICTURE: Governor Bruce Rauner, who signed an amendment to the Right of Conscience act 



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