CHICAGO, Illinois, February 28, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A new Illinois law is “monstrously prejudicial” that threatens to force pregnancy resource centers and healthcare providers to refer pregnant women for abortions in violation of their religious or moral convictions.
More than a dozen Illinois women’s health organizations filed suit against Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this month. Under the controversial new law, doctors, pharmacies and pregnancy centers are compelled to counsel on the “benefits” of abortion, or refer women to abortionists if they do not perform the procedure.
Senate Bill 1564, an amended version of the 1998 Healthcare Right of Conscience Act that undermines previous conscience protections, was passed last July and went into effect January 1.
Some of the centers have been forced to stop medical services, which include pregnancy tests, sonograms and STD testing. Another pregnancy center with more than one location has stopped accepting new clients rather than violate its pro-life mission or risk being shut down.
Laura Petigoue, who founded Hope Life Center in Sterling, Illinois, with her husband, called the law “monstrously prejudicial.”
“For over 30 years, Hope Life Center has been the only organization in our community dedicated to providing women with the education and medical services they need to make informed decisions about unwanted pregnancies,” Petigoue said. “Now we have had to suspend all our medical services because this new law mandates us to serve these women in a way that is harmful to them and to their unborn children.”
Critics say requiring pro-life health professionals and pregnancy centers to actively refer patients to abortion businesses is a violation of conscience. And forcing these organizations to counsel in favor of abortion violates their freedom of speech.
“The new law requires these pro-life centers, and only them, to discuss ‘benefits’ of abortion with their clients and to name abortion providers upon request,” attorney Thomas Olp of the Thomas More Society said in a statement. “In my view, the law is nefarious and pernicious in its targeting of pro-life physicians and pregnancy resource centers.”
In addition to depriving women of access to pro-life healthcare, the law means pregnancy care centers that provide free assistance would have to choose between becoming a referral source for abortionists or close their doors.
“This law targets pro-life pregnancy centers, which do not refer for abortion, and whose pro-life mission is to advise clients of alternatives to abortion,” Olp said.
Two Illinois pregnancy care centers represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and an ADF-allied Chicago attorney were granted a temporary injunction in December. But the state’s remaining pregnancy resource centers were still vulnerable, Tom Ciesielka of the Thomas More Society told LifeSiteNews.
SB 1564 left the state's more than 90 not-for-profit pregnancy resource centers with little choice but to sue, Ciesielka said, because the law “unconstitutionally abridges their free speech and interferes with their religious beliefs.”
Mary Strom, executive director of The Women’s Centers, which has three Chicago-area sites, spoke of her organization’s Catholic identity, explaining that the centers’ effectiveness is directly tied to it, even while it serves women of all faiths.
“I credit the success we have had in helping women to the power of prayer,” she said. “Everything comes from that.”
The Thomas More Society is representing 18 women’s health organizations from across Illinois in the conscience complaint. It filed an action on behalf of two pregnancy resource centers the week before the February 10 filing for the group of 18. The lawsuit was then amended because so many others were also in need of protection from the law.
The new law is “the essence of forced government speech prohibited by the free speech provisions of our federal and state constitutions,” Olp said.
“The First Amendment equally protects the right to speak and not to speak,” he said. “The government cannot show a compelling reason for this requirement since information about abortion is readily available from all sorts of public and private sources.”
“Most of our plaintiffs have literally spent decades helping women by providing information about alternatives to abortion (parenting and adoption),” Olp continued, “thereby helping to empower and encourage them to recognize that a choice for life for their unborn child is much preferable to abortion both for them and for their unborn babies.”
“The new law strikes at the plaintiffs’ faith-based ability to render effective assistance to pregnant women about childbearing and child rearing by requiring them to substitute a secular government-sponsored message totally at odds with their faith position,” he said. “The government is not permitted constitutionally to do this, in our view.”
In the event of a lengthy wait for a court hearing, Thomas More attorneys would consider filing for an emergency injunction, Ciesielka said, allowing the pregnancy centers to continue offering their full services to women.