The Illinois Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would require religiously affiliated hospitals that refuse to offer certain services to provide patients with accurate information about those procedures and where they are available.
SB 1564, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), would amend the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The bill would permit any medical facility, physician, or health professional to refuse to perform or provide information about health-care services because of a religious objection only if written access to care and information protocols are also provided.
The bill would mean that any refusal would not impair the patient’s health by causing delay of or inability to access the refused health-care service.
The Democratic-controlled senate passed the bill Wednesday by a vote of 34 to 19, mostly along partisan lines.
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“You have to protect the right of the health care provider to provide care that is consistent with their faith,” Biss told the Chicago Tribune. “And simultaneously, you have to protect the patient’s right to have information as well as access to care. I think this bill does both.”
While the requirements would apply to all hospitals and other health-care facilities in the state, it would have a significant impact on Catholic hospitals that provide care for more than one in four patients in Illinois.
Biss told the Associated Press that the bill was introduced in part due to a case involving a woman who had a miscarriage that lasted several weeks, but the hospital in which she sought care refused to provide a diagnosis or options.
Angela Valavanis’ birth plan for her second pregnancy included that in the event that she would need a cesarean section, she would want a tubal ligation, a surgical procedure that closes the fallopian tubes and prevents further pregnancies.
After being admitted to Presence St. Francis Hospital to induce labor, she was informed that she would need a c-section and was told that tubal ligation would violate Catholic Church dogma.
“If I had known in advance that was going to be an issue, I would have chosen to give birth at a different hospital,” Valavanis told the Chicago Tribune. “Not every community has multiple hospitals. Ours does.”
The debate about the religious and conscience protections for health-care providers often focuses on reproductive health care such as birth control, but the protections can include refusals to offer end-of-life care and transition services for transgender patients.
Anti-choice organizations such as Americans United for Life (AUL) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are raising objections to the bill. They claim it would force hospitals and physicians to refer, transfer, or provide information to a patient regarding care, despite conscience objections.
This could apply to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), facilities with staffers who knowingly disseminate misinformation to pregnant people and dissuade them from seeking abortion care.
The anti-choice centers, which in many states receive government funds, attract people by disguising themselves as abortion clinics, advertising their services as unbiased counseling, and buying or leasing space near abortion clinics.
The Illinois bill “obligates a healthcare facility, physician, or healthcare provider to participate in potentially conscience-violating services by requiring the provider to refer or transfer a patient or provide information to the patient regarding other healthcare providers who the provider reasonably believes offer the objected-to healthcare service,” according to a AUL legislative brief.
ADF senior legal counsel Matthew S. Bowman, in a letter to state lawmakers, wrote that Illinois CPCs “are actually medical facilities and/or they operate under the official supervision of a licensed physician.” Bowman specifically cited some of the 11 CPCs that undersigned the letter as examples.
Among the CPCs listed in the letter, the only services offered are ultrasounds and pregnancy testing, according to a review of the CPCs’ websites by Rewire. Few include specific information about staff and their qualifications, and it is unclear if any operate as licensed medical facilities.
The legislation now moves to the house, where Democrats hold a 71-47 majority.