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.
In the complaint, the groups argue that the new requirements violate existing federal law including the Hyde-Weldon Amendment which forbids state and local governments from discriminating against healthcare providers based on their refusal to “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for” abortions.
They argue that the law also specifically targets pro-life healthcare providers and infringes on their First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
Thomas Olp, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the Thomas More Society, said that federal and state courts have issued injunctions blocking the law while litigation is pending.
He explained the group's purpose in filing a complaint to HHS.
“We believe that P.A. 99-690 violates several federal laws that protect the conscience rights of physicians and other healthcare providers,” he said. “But some courts have held that only the federal government, not individual citizens, can enforce these laws. Our administrative action is designed to trigger enforcement action by the federal government. We are hopeful the Trump administration will act on the pro-active pro-life principles it has articulated since the President took office.”
The complaint also calls on HHS to “issue interpretive guidelines making it clear that the cited federal laws reach, and prohibit, any state law which, like P.A. 99-690, targets and punishes religious and conscience-based opposition to the practice of abortion. The cited federal laws were enacted precisely to protect conscience-based refusals to participate in abortion, and should be interpreted so as to be effective in prohibiting state laws like P.A. 99-690, which seek to force conscience objectors to participate in and promote abortion against their will.”
“Without this office’s interpretive guidance some states will continue to interpret these laws in ways contrary to their manifest purpose, and will continue to enact laws punishing conscience-based refusals to participate in abortion, as did Illinois through enactment of P.A. 99-690,” the complaint continues. “Such state actions flouting the federal laws cited should not be countenanced. This office’s regulatory guidance would facilitate that desired outcome.”
The Illinois law is similar to a California law, which the Supreme Court will examine this year, that requires pregnancy centers, despite conscience objections, to disseminate a message to their clients promoting free and low cost contraception and abortion services.