Protection of conscience bill passes in Indiana

Sean Murphy*

Indiana Senate Bill 201, proposed by Senator Liz Brown, passed the Indian Senate by a vote of 38-8 and will be sent to Goveror Eric Holcomb for signature. Existing Indiana law protects freedom of conscience for physicians, nurses and institutional employees in relation to surgical abortion. Bill 201 amends the statute to include medical abortion and extends protection to physician assistants and pharmacists.

Bishops condemn bills to expand abortion, repeal conscience protection

Catholic News Service

Jacob Comello

The bishops from Illinois’ six dioceses March 28 made a decisive stand against state legislators’ efforts to remove all abortion restrictions in the state, as well as the right of physicians to object to the practice.

At a news conference livestreamed from the Illinois Capitol in Springfield, Catholic Conference of Illinois Director Bob Gilligan told reporters on no uncertain terms that “we are here today to oppose these bills.”

. . . The Senate and House bills Gilligan is referring to are S.B. 1942 and H.B. 2495. Either, if passed, would greatly alter current Illinois law. . . . [Full text]

19 State Attorneys General Declare Opposition to HHS’ Proposed Conscientious Objection Rule

New York Law Journal

Kristen Rasmu

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed rule that would more vigorously protect health care providers’ ability to deny coverage in certain circumstances because of moral or religious beliefs should be withdrawn, according to a coalition of state attorneys general.

The proposed rule would strengthen the enforcement of existing regulations that allow providers to invoke conscientious objections as a basis for refusing to provide care that involves certain medical issues, including abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide and others. It also would allow individual providers to object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers of those options. . . [Full Text]

Court Holds Health Care Conscience Act Trumps County’s Immunity Claim

News Release

For immediate release

Mauck & Baker LLC

ROCKFORD, Ill.—On Monday, Chief Judge Eugene Doherty rejected Winnebago County’s primary defense that the Tort Immunity Act shielded it from liability for claims that Rockford nurse Sandra (Mendoza) Rojas brought against it after she was forced out of her job for refusing to participate in abortion-related services. Rojas’ right to refuse to participate in such services is protected under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act and Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A devout Catholic, Rojas worked for the Health Department for 18 years providing pediatric care, immunizations, and screenings.

In 2015, the county’s new Public Health Administrator, Dr. Sandra Martell, merged the pediatric clinic with women’s health services and mandated that all nurses be trained to provide abortion referrals and participate in the provision of abortifacients like Plan B. When Rojas, who Dr. Martell considered to be a “good nurse,” informed the administration of her conscientious objections to participating in any way in the provision of abortions, Dr. Martell gave Rojas two weeks to either quit or accept a demotion to a temporary job as a food inspector. Rojas refused the demotion and lost her job at the clinic.

The suit seeks damages under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act which prohibits public officials from discriminating against a person in any manner because of their conscientious refusal to participate in any way in the provision of abortions. The Act provides for treble damages and the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs. “Nursing is more than just a job, it is a noble calling to protect life and do no harm. There is something terribly wrong when you are forced out of your job on account of your commitment to protect life,” said nurse Rojas.

Rojas’ attorney, Noel Sterett, from the law firm Mauck & Baker in Chicago, said, “The Conscience Act was written to ensure that both public and private health care professionals would be protected from government efforts to force them out on account of their conscientious objections.” Denise Harle, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel said, “Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to perform or assist in abortion procedures. An individual’s conscience and commitment to the Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm’ is often what draws health care workers into the medical field.”

View Complaint

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Mauck & Baker Attorney
Noel W. Sterett, Esq.

Complaint filed with federal agency by Rockford nurse over abortion mandates

Georgett Braun

ROCKFORD.  A local woman has filed a complaint with a federal agency alleging that she was forced from her job in 2015 at the Winnebago County Health Department because of abortion mandates.

The complaint was filed Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by attorneys representing Sandra Rojas.

The complaint alleges that Rojas, a pediatric nurse who worked 18 years at the Health Department, objected to a requirement that nurses be trained to make referrals to abortion providers and to help women obtain abortion drugs. . . . [Full Text]

Pro-life Pregnancy Center Files HHS Complaint Over Illinois Law that Requires Them to Promote Abortion


Lauretta Brown

The Thomas More Society filed a complaint Thursday with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) against the state of Illinois over a new law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to discuss the benefits of abortion and sterilization procedures. The law also requires the centers, if asked, to refer patients to abortion providers despite the centers’ opposition to these procedures.

The Thomas More Society is representing Dr. Jim Gallant and Hope Life Center, a pro-life pregnancy center in Sterling, Illinois. . . [Full Text]

llinois Judge Suspends Abortion Notification Law

Measure forces pregnancy centers to promote abortion

Church Militant

Stephen Wynne

ROCKFORD, Ill. ( – In a setback for mandatory abortion referral laws, a federal judge is halting implementation of an Illinois notification measure.

U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Kapala has temporarily suspended enforcement of SB1564, a measure that compels pro-life pregnancy care centers and doctors to publicize abortion to their clients. In his ruling, Kapala warned that SB1564, an amendment to the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, may threaten religious liberty and free speech rights.

SB1564 went into effect January 1. In response, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates joined with 18 Illinois pregnancy care centers to challenge it in court. . . [Full text]


Abortion notice law clashes with free speech and right-of-conscience laws at suburban pregnancy centers

Chicago on the Radar

April Leachman

After the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, federal legislation was passed to represent the interests of doctors and other healthcare workers who have religious or moral objections to the controversial procedure.  These “right-of-conscience” laws  provide a measure of protection for medical personnel who do not want to perform abortions or offer abortion referrals.

In Illinois, all that changed on January 1 of this year, when  Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendment to the legislation officially took effect, requiring clinicians, regardless of their moral convictions, to inform pregnant women  about “all their options,” including abortion.

Healthcare entities must at least provide women with abortion referrals.   There seems to be some concern that patients are not being apprised of all the courses of action they can pursue when they find themselves in a crisis pregnancy.

Two Christian pregnancy centers– 1st Way Pregnancy Support Services (McHenry County) and Pregnancy Aid South Suburbs (Lansing)– and a physician who serves patients at various clinics, have since filed suit in opposition to the enactment.  Plaintiffs point out that the Illinois legislation is a clear violation of federal law.  Furthermore, it tramples on clinicians’ First Amendment Rights, requiring providers to inform patients about a procedure that they believe is morally wrong. . . [Full Text]


Pro-life Doctor Challenging Illinois Law That Forces Docs to Counsel Patients on Abortion “Benefits”

New American

Raven Clabough

A pro-life doctor in Illinois is embroiled in a legal battle to challenge a 2016 law that requires all doctors, pharmacists, and pregnancy centers to assist women in obtaining abortions, regardless of whether the medical professionals are opposed to the procedure.

SB 1564 narrowly passed the Illinois House on party lines before being signed into law by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. Under the law, which amends the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act, doctors are required to provide information to patients about the “benefits” of abortion. It indicates that medical personnel must “inform a patient of the patient’s condition, prognosis, legal treatment options, and risks and benefits of the treatment options in a timely manner consistent with current standards of medical practice.”

The law mandates that physicians who are unwilling to provide the requested service “because the healthcare service is contrary to the conscience of the healthcare facility, physician, or healthcare personnel” must refer the patient to someone who will.

But those opposed to abortion contend that asking them to refer patients to someone who will provide them abortion services continues to violate their consciences. . .  [Full text]


Important legal action: 18 women’s health organizations sue Illinois Gov. Rauner

Illinois Pregnancy Resource Centers Sue Governor for First Amendment Violations:  State Law Compels Staff to Refer for Abortions Despite Religious Objections

News Release

Thomas More Society

(February 10, 2017 – Chicago) Eighteen Illinois women’s health organizations are suing Governor Bruce Rauner over Illinois’ new law forcing pro-life doctors and pregnancy resource centers to discuss abortion benefits and refer pregnant women for abortions despite their conscience-based opposition to abortion.

The controversial SB 1564, which amended the Health Care Right of Conscience Act effective January 1, 2017, has left Illinois’ over 90 not-for-profit pregnancy resource centers with little choice but to file suit seeking a judicial determination that the law unconstitutionally abridges their free speech and interferes with their religious beliefs.

The Thomas More Society filed for injunctive relief this week on behalf of 18 of the centers, citing violations of multiple rights under the Constitution of the State of Illinois. It filed an action on behalf of two others late last week, The Women’s Centers of Greater Chicagoland and Hope Life Center in Sterling, Illinois. Some of the centers have been forced to stop medical services, which include pregnancy tests, sonograms, and STD testing, until the legal issues are resolved.

Thomas Olp, Attorney for the Thomas More Society, observed, “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. 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. This is the essence of forced government speech prohibited by the free speech provisions of our federal and state constitutions. The First Amendment equally protects the right to speak and not to speak. 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.

It is as easy to find the location of an abortion clinic as to find our clients’ pregnancy resource centers. Moreover, the law is content-based and viewpoint-discriminatory, meaning it applies to a certain type of speech, and targets only conscience-based objectors, but leaves all others free from regulation. Its intent really is to directly interfere with pro-life pregnancy centers that have aided many thousands of pregnant women over the years learn that abortion is not the only choice in a problem pregnancy, and that adoption and parenting are not only healthier choices for the mother but avoid the tragedy of abortion, which kills an unborn child. In my view, the law is nefarious and pernicious in its targeting of pro-life physicians and pregnancy resource centers.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County, Illinois – Chancery Division, charges Governor Rauner and his Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, Bryan Schneider, with several constitutional violations resulting from enacting SB 1564. The Plaintiffs advance claims under the free speech, religious liberty, due process, and equal protection clauses of the state constitution.

Those abuses include infringement of the following rights:

The Constitution of the State of Illinois’ guarantee that, “All persons may speak, write, and publish freely.” The Plaintiffs’ freedom of speech is abridged when the state compels them to discuss treatment options and disclose abortion providers to which they possess sincerely-held religious objections.

The statute is vague and therefore violates constitutional due process because it does not give fair notice to a person of common intelligence as to what it requires. Rather, one must guess as to its meaning.

The statute denies plaintiffs equal protection of the laws in that it targets a class of conscience-based objectors but does not regulate health care providers who do not have conscience-based objections.

The law interferes with the Illinois Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. Article I, Section 3 guarantees “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination.”

The Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects Illinoisans’ free exercise of religion. SB 1564 substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ exercise of religion.

Mary Strom, Executive Director of The Women’s Centers, which has three sites in the Chicago area, stated that the organization’s success is directly tied to its Catholic identity, even while it serves women of all faiths. “I credit the success we have had in helping women to the power of prayer,” she shared. “Everything comes from that.”

Hope Life Center in Sterling, Illinois, was founded by Laura Petigoue and her husband, Mark. “It was after I learned about the devastation that abortion brings that we dedicated ourselves to addressing the needs of women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and providing loving, Christ-centered alternatives,” recalled Petigoue, who is greatly saddened by Illinois’ adoption of this law she calls, “monstrously prejudicial.” Debbie Case, the Executive Director of Hope Life Center, noted, “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. 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. We’re seeking relief from this law so we can get back to doing what we do best, taking care of vulnerable women in our community.”

Mr. Olp also observed, “Most of our Plaintiffs have literally spent decades helping women by providing information about alternatives to abortion (parenting and adoption), 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 child bearing and child rearing by requiring them to substitute a secular government-sponsored message totally at odds with their faith position. The government is not permitted constitutionally to do this, in our view.”

The Pregnancy Resource Centers filing suit this week were:

WATERLEAF WOMEN’S CENTER, Aurora and Bolingbrook;

Link to the above filing here.

Read the Verified Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, filed February 2, 2017, in the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County, Illinois – Chancery Division, in the case, The Women’s Centers of Greater Chicagoland, a not-for-profit Illinois corporation, and Hope Life Center, Inc., a not-for-profit Illinois corporation v. Bruce Rauner, in his official capacity as Governor of State of Illinois, Bryan A. Schneider, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, in his official capacity here.

The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago and Omaha, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit