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Governor Pritzker Signs Amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act

By Sean D. Hurley

On November 8, 2021, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1169 into law. The Bill is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act (“HCRCA”), 745 ILCS 70/1 et seq., a law which protects individuals and entities from discrimination or certain other adverse actions based on their refusal to act contrary to their conscience in the health care arena. It has been said that the original intent of the HCRCA was to allow health care providers to refuse to provide contraceptives or abortion services if doing so would violate their conscience.

In recent months, since the issuance of various COVID-19 vaccine mandates, certain groups have asserted the HCRCA as a legal basis for refusing vaccination, arguing that the HCRCA shields them from mandatory vaccination if they have a moral objection to the vaccine. The Illinois General Assembly has responded to those arguments with the passage of Senate Bill 1169, which seeks to clarify the intent of the General Assembly that the HCRCA does not apply to the refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

Section 13.5. Violations related to COVID-19 requirements. It is not a violation of this Act for any person, …agency…entity… or employer, to take any measures or impose any requirements, including, but not limited to, any measures or requirements that involve provision of services by a physician or healthcare personnel, intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19 or any pathogens that result in COVID-19 or any of its subsequent iterations.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul asked Governor Pritzker to encourage lawmakers to amend the HCRCA to make clear that the law does not encompass noncompliance with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) sponsored the legislation and released a statement saying the Bill “prevents a small group of people from distorting the meaning” of the HCRCA “and putting some of our most vulnerable members of society in danger.”

“Masks, vaccines, and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” said Governor Pritzker, who thanked the General Assembly for ensuring the HCRCA “is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”

Because the Bill did not receive a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, the amendment will not become effective until June 1, 2022. However, Governor Pritzker has left the door open for the amendment to be re-visited by lawmakers after the new year, when less votes would be needed for the amendment to take immediate effect.