Lawsuit: Reproductive Health Act’s insurance mandate violates religious freedoms
Peter Breen, a former state representative and vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society, speaks during a news event last year in Chicago after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act. The Society is challenging the legality of an abortion coverage mandate in the law. (Capitol News Illinois file photo by Rebecca Anzel)
Coalition of Baptist churches, 2 businesses files suit against abortion coverage requirement
By REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Insurance provisions of Illinois’ reproductive health care law violates residents’ religious freedoms, a coalition of Baptist churches and two state businesses allege in a circuit court lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The Reproductive Health Act, signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker almost one year ago, overhauled Illinois’ health care law. It enshrines access to pregnancy care, contraception, birth control, abortion procedures and other related benefits as a fundamental right, meaning no level of government in the state can infringe upon a person’s access to those services.
In its lawsuit, the Thomas More Society, a Chicago law firm that focuses on defending religious rights, took issue with the statute’s insurance mandate — that private insurance companies regulated by Illinois must cover abortions if they also cover pregnancy-related benefits.
By enforcing that provision, the state Department of Insurance has “refused to protect (Illinoisans’) sincerely held religious beliefs,” according to a news release.
“Radical partisans have forced employers of faith in Illinois into a terrible choice: either pay for the intentional termination of unborn children, or leave your employees’ families and your own without health insurance,” the law firm’s vice president and senior counsel Peter Breen said in a statement.
The Illinois Baptist State Association, dental office Southland Smiles Ltd. In Cook County, and trucking company Rock River Cartage Inc., in Whiteside County, are asking a judge to rule the Reproductive Health Act “unlawful, invalid, unenforceable, null and void,” according to the filing. They also want to be reimbursed for the cost of filing the case and attorney fees.
Those groups adhered with the law since Pritzker signed it and it became immediately effective on June 12, 2019. But, their attorney wrote, they did so “against their will” given the Reproductive Health Act “creates government-imposed coercive pressure on (the parties) to change or violate their religious beliefs.”
On Oct. 21, 2019, the Thomas More Society filed a complaint with the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights challenging the same aspect of Illinois’ reproductive health care law.
At the time, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out that Illinois allows those who provide health insurance and have a religious objection to abortion procedures to opt out of that insurance mandate.
That avenue exists in the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which specifies a “health care payer” cannot be discriminated against as long as its objections of conscience are documented in any of its governing documents.
A spokesperson representing the law firm said the federal government has not responded to the Thomas More Society’s complaint.
The current lawsuit is pending in Sangamon County’s circuit court.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.