As has become his troubling custom, Governor Pritzker continues to eliminate checks and balances within our government and consolidate power in himself. ABC 7 News reported on October 11th (https://abc7.ws/3lJPfDe), “In the battle over COVID vaccine mandates, Governor JB Pritzker is quietly working behind the scenes to revise a law some groups are invoking to try and avoid the requirement.” The law referred to in the report is Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act (745 ILCS 70: https://bit.ly/3aBOu8X), which has been securing Illinoisans’ right of conscience since its passage in 1977, over 44 years ago.
The General Assembly passed this Act (at that time known as the “Right of Conscience Act,” House Bill 905) with virtually no opposition in both houses. Since that time, the General Assembly has amended the Conscience Act three times, most recently in 2019. Each time, the amendment both expanded and strengthened the Act’s protections.
Governor Pritzker seems to think that the General Assembly never intended the Conscience Act to apply to regular people. But the language very plainly states that Illinois’ public policy is “to respect and protect the right of conscience of all persons.” Moreover, the Conscience Act’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits anyone from “discriminat[ing] against any person in any manner” as it relates to providing or receiving medical/health care services.
Governor Pritzker attempts to read too much into the words of the senators who discussed the Act, instead of simply following the above language from the actual statute. During the floor debate, a sponsoring senator explained that “essentially, [the Act] would allow hospitals and medical personnel the right not to participate in medical procedures with which they are . . . with which they do not agree in conscience.” But this only tells a part of their thinking. When another senator asked about “the reverse situation . . . can they [e.g, a Christian Scientist] have a right to refuse treatment . . . if a patient or the parent of a patient does not want any services?,” the sponsor stated the obvious: “No, they have that right currently and this Act does not change that.” (The 1977 Senate floor debate transcript can be viewed here, page 377-378: https://bit.ly/3aDZRNp). The General Assembly in 1977 did not even consider whether ordinary people had the right to refuse medical/health care services because there was no need — the Conscience Act merely added additional protections for health care workers, and otherwise codified rights and protections that the vast majority of Illinoisans (and legislators) knew already existed.
Illinoisans’ right to refuse medical/health care services that are in violation of their conscience or religious beliefs is long-standing, well-recognized, and widely acknowledged. The General Assembly that passed this bill and the three others that amended it have never narrowed the scope of the law to apply only to health care workers. Instead, they very clearly affirmed the rights of the people of Illinois to refuse health care that conflicts with their conscientious beliefs. Governor Pritzker must not abrogate those rights nor manipulate the legislature to do so.