Illinois controversy about legislative overreach

 Catholic bishops withdraw opposition, others remain opposed

Confrontation centres on complicity

Sean Murphy*


Among American states, Illinois has the most comprehensive protection of conscience legislation, the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA). In 2009 an attempt was made to nullify the Act with respect to abortion, contraception and related procedures by introducing HB 2354 (Reproductive Health and Access Act), but the bill died in committee two years later.1 Now it appears that the HRCA may be changed by Senate Bill 1564. Critics say the bill tramples upon physician freedom of conscience,2 while the bill’s supporters, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claim that the bill is “about making sure no one is withholding information from the patient.”3

SB 1564 was actually drafted by the ACLU,3 but it was introduced by Illinois Senator Daniel Biss. He said that the amendments were partly in response to the case of a woman who was miscarrying over several weeks, but who was refused “diagnosis or options” in the hospital where she had sought treatment.4  Senator Bliss was apparently referring to the story of Mindy Swank, who testified before a Senate legislative panel about her experience.  The Illinois Times reported that she suffered “a dangerous, weeks-long miscarriage” because of the refusal of Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.5

Unfortunately, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee does not record or transcribe its hearings, and conflicting news reports make it difficult to determine exactly what happened at some critical points in her story.  Moreover, it appears that the Committee did not hear from the hospitals and physicians who were involved with Ms. Swank, so we are left with a one-sided account of what took place.6

Nonetheless, as a first step in considering the particulars of the bill and the controversy it has engendered, it is appropriate to review the evidence offered to support it.  We will begin with Mindy Swank’s testimony, even if some details are lacking, and then examine the experience of Angela Valavanis, a second case put forward by the ACLU to justify SB 1564.7  [Full Text]

Statement of Catholic Citizens of Illinois on SB#1564, Health Care Right of Conscience Act

From the Board of Directors of Catholic Citizens of Illinois

In an act of insufferable arrogance, the Illinois Senate has passed SB#1564.  The bill purports to require all “medical personnel” who don’t provide abortion “services” to refer their patients to someone who does.  The bill continues to undergo amendments.

But amendments can’t cure the problem. The bill is intended to require Catholic “medical personnel” to act against their religious convictions, and thus an inexcusable and unacceptable attempt to coerce consciences.

Catholics do not derive our consciences from the Illinois General Assembly.  Freedom of Religion, the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment, and in the Illinois Constitution, prohibits the government from violating our unalienable right not to be coerced in matters of faith. The right to freedom of religion is a human right, conferred on us by our Creator, and not by the Federal Government, the State of Illinois or even by our religious authorities.

Some state that they are “neutral” towards the bill.  But for Catholics, “neutrality” in the face of an intrinsic evil is never an option.  Just one year after the Roe v. Wade decision, in 1974, the Vatican issued the Declaration on Procured Abortion which described “abortion and infanticide as abominable crimes.”  Pope Paul VI, speaking on many occasions declared this teaching “unchanged and unchangeable.”

More recently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reaffirmed long standing Catholic theology which denounces abortion as “intrinsically evil” and therefore “non-negotiable.”

And in Evangelli Gaudium, his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, citing Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis stated that:

“[T]his defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”[1]

Specifically applied to the field of health care, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, our Catholic Bishops teach that:

1.Catholic care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization.

2. The possibility of scandal must be considered when applying the principals governing cooperation.[2] Cooperation which in all other respects is morally licit may need to be refused because of the scandal that might be caused.[3]

Given these long-settled Catholic precepts, how could any Catholic, in good conscience, comply with a law that our faith and our leadership teaches is immoral?

The answer is obvious: those advocating for this legislation know that we cannot.

[1] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), 37: AAS 81 (1989), 461, at

[2] See: Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil (no. 2284): “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads other to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.” (no. 2287).

[3] Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fifth Edition.