Senate Bill 1564, which amends the Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, went into effect on January 1, 2017. It undermines the conscience protections of pro-life healthcare providers and threatens the core mission of pregnancy resource centers. This legislation forces every doctor, pharmacist, and pregnancy resource center to refer for abortions, tell patients the “benefits” of abortion, and present abortion as a “legal treatment option.”
Since SB 1564 was signed into law, several lawsuits have been filed in defense of pro-life medical professionals and pregnancy resource centers. First, on August 5, 2016, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit in the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Winnebago County on behalf of Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford, Dr. Anthony Caruso of A Bella Baby OBGYN, and Aid for Women. The lawsuit was filed against Governor Bruce Rauner and the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, Bryan Schneider. Mauck & Baker LLC are co-counsel in the case.
Next, on September 16, 2016, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit in federal court on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), Tri-County Crisis Pregnancy Center, Informed Choices, the Life Center, TLC Pregnancy Services, Mosaic Pregnancy & Health Centers, Dr. Tina Gingrich, and the Maryville Women’s Center. Mauck & Baker LLC are co-counsel in the case. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, against Governor Bruce Rauner and the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, Bryan Schneider.
In addition October 27, 2016, the Alliance Defending Freedom and Mauck & Baker, LLC, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, on behalf of the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford, Dr. Anthony Caruso of A Bella Baby OBGYN, and Aid for Women.
After the law went into effect on January 1st, the Thomas More Society also filed suit on behalf of 18 pregnancy resource centers in the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County, Illinois, on February 9, 2017. The lawsuit was filed against Governor Bruce Rauner and the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, Bryan Schneider. Mauck & Baker are co-counsel in the case. They also filed for injunctive relief. A few days prior, on February 2, 2017, attorneys at the Thomas More Society filed a verified complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, on behalf of the Women’s Centers of Greater Chicagoland and Hope Life Center, as well.
Since the filing of these motions and lawsuits, there have been some developments. On December 21, 2016, the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford, Dr. Anthony Caruso, and Aid for Women were granted a preliminary injunction. This allows the plaintiffs to be exempt from the law until the lawsuit is settled. Also, on March 31, 2017, a hearing took place in the case Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford vs. Rauner.
If you are a pro-life doctor, pharmacist, or pregnancy resource center, and would like to join a lawsuit, contact the Alliance Defending Freedom at www.adflegal.org.
The Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Law has been in effect since August of 2013, when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the law was constitutional. Under this law, no physician can knowingly perform an abortion on a minor child (17 years old and younger) until that physician (or an agent of the physician) has ensured that the child’s parent, grandparent, or legal guardian has received notice 48 hours prior to performing the abortion that his or her child is seeking an abortion. Any person who fraudulently signs a notice waiver for a minor child can be sentenced to 30 days in jail and/or fined up to $1,500. You can read the full text of the law here.
With the Law in affect for just under 5 months, abortions on minor girls dropped 20%. Abortions on minor girls 14 years old and younger dropped 30.1%. As a matter of fact, Illinois was the only Midwestern state without a parental notice or consent law in effect. However, implementation of this law was a battle long fought.
Here is the history of the law, according to the Thomas More Society of Chicago, the attorneys that defended the law:
In 1983, the General Assembly passed the Illinois Parental Notification of Abortion Act of 1983. It was found unconstitutional by the courts and was never enforced.
Finally, in 1995, the Parental Notification Act of 1995 became law, which required a parent or guardian to be notified 48 hours before a child under 18 has an abortion. The ACLU immediately obtained an injunction in Federal Court due to unclear rules on the judicial bypass procedure by which a minor girl could obtain an abortion without her parents being notified if a judge approved the procedure. The law remained locked in judicial limbo until for over a decade.
In 2005, the Thomas More Society began implementing Special Counsel Paul Linton’s legal strategy to get the injunction lifted. Representatives of pro-life organizations met with DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett in the spring of 2005 to ask him to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to adopt the rules required by the 1995 Act. Birkett agreed and filed his petition in June 2006.
On September 7, 2006, the Thomas More Society, representing a range of interested organizations, filed a supplemental petition with the state supreme court. Less than two weeks later, the Illinois Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Bob Thomas, unanimously adopted Supreme Court Rule 303A.
After various delays, Attorney General Lisa Madigan returned to federal court in March 2007 and petitioned Judge David Coar to lift the permanent injunction which had been issued eleven years earlier. After Judge Coar denied the petition, the Thomas More Society intervened in the case on behalf of State’s Attorneys Stu Umholtz (Republican, Tazewell County) and Ed Deters (Democrat, Effingham County) to press an appeal against the injunction.
In the fall of 2009, after Thomas More Society had filed a writ of mandamus, urging that the law be enforced, and in September of that year, it was enforced for the first time ever—but only for four hours. Once again, the ACLU intervened and convinced a judge to put a temporary restraining order on the law preventing its enforcement.
In the spring of 2010, the Illinois attorney general argued that the Illinois State Constitution protects the fundamental right to abortion even though the constitution was penned in 1970—three years before the monumental Roe v. Wade decision.
Though that request was denied, on March 29, 2010, Judge Daniel Riley dismissed the ACLU’s case and the Thomas More Society joined the case as “friends of the court.”
In 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded the decision of the Cook County Circuit Court that upheld the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 on state constitutional grounds. The Appellate Court did not resolve the ultimate legal issues raised in the case, even though those issues were fully briefed in both the trial and appellate courts.
On November 30, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to decide a pair of appeals arising out of the ACLU’s latest challenge of the legality of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995—an Act whose enforcement the ACLU has stymied through successive court challenges ever since it became a law.
On July 11, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Illinois’ long-delayed Parental Notice of Abortion Act did not violate the Illinois Constitution and thus would finally go into effect.
Until now, Illinois was the only Midwestern state without a parental notice or consent law in effect. This allowed thousands of abortions to be performed in Illinois on non-resident minors who crossed state lines, often accompanied by the adults who impregnated them, to evade their own state’s parental notice or consent laws. However, with the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act now being enforced, Illinois can no longer be a “fugitive” abortion state – a “dumping ground” for out-of-state minors’ abortions.
Now, under the Illinois law, passed in 1995 but not ruled enforceable until now, a parent or guardian must be notified at least 48 hours before a child under the age of 18 undergoes an abortion.
Read the Court’s decision here.
On June 8, 2016, Ms. Sandra Mendoza, a pediatric nurse in Rockford, sued the Winnebago County Health Department after she was forced out of her job for her pro-life beliefs. For eighteen years, Ms. Mendoza worked for the Winnebago Health Department, providing immunizations and screenings and faithfully serving the children within her community. Then, in 2015, the county’s new Public Health Administrator initiated a merger of women’s health care with pediatrics. Along with this change came the requirement that nurses like Ms. Mendoza provide abortion referrals and Plan B (abortion-causing drug) prescriptions to women.
As a strong pro-life advocate, Ms. Mendoza would be placed in a position that would violate her conscience. If she refused to comply, the Health Department presented her with an ultimatum: either she accept a demotion to a part-time position as food inspector or quit her job.
Despite the fact she is a mother with children to support, along with a committed history of working with the Winnebago Health Department for 18 years, Ms. Mendoza stood firm to her convictions and refused to participate in the abortion related services. She was then forced to resign from her position in July of 2015.
Ms. Mendoza filed a lawsuit against the Winnebago County Health Department, seeking damages under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. Defending her in the case is attorney Noel Sterett and his team at Mauck & Baker LLC, in Chicago. Mr. Sterett explains,
“The Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act is very strong. It provides that no public or private employer can take an adverse employment action against somebody for exerting their right of conscience in the provision of some type of medical care.”
In an exclusive interview with Illinois Right to Life’s executive director, Emily Troscinski, Mr. Sterett answered several questions surrounding the case, including the possible impact which the passage of SB 1564 will have on the case. You can watch the full interview here.
Embed video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6iP__QJe4M
No new developments regarding the case have been released. Please stay tuned for updates.
At this time, both parties in the case have completed the discovery process and will be submitting written legal briefs to the court. It is expected to have an opinion from the court before October.
The “bubble zone” ordinance has been in effect in the city of Chicago since October of 2009. This ordinance, which has been applied to abortion facilities exclusively, requires that within a 50 foot radius from the doors of the facility, no one can approach a person entering the facility within 8 feet unless the other person consents. The rule essentially targets sidewalk counselors, who are trained to gently talk with women and share life-affirming alternatives with those seeking abortions. As Thomas More Society Counsel Thomas Olp explains:
“Pro-abortion propaganda claims that pro-life counselors intimidate women approaching abortion clinics. That is not true. That type of engagement would be ineffective. Pro-life sidewalk counselors compassionately and calmly approach women, one-on-one, to offer them information about abortion alternatives. The bubble zone law impedes that interaction, unconstitutionally, we believe, in violation of our clients’ First Amendment rights.”
Since the law went into effect, issues have arisen with Chicago police officers applying the ordinance against sidewalk counselors in ways inconsistent with the law – for example: requiring counselors to stay 50 feet away from clinic doors, and enforcing the law only against sidewalk counselors, when it applies to abortion clinic escorts as well.
In response to this, a complaint was filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of the Pro-Life Action League, Live Pro-Life Chicago, and other pro-life sidewalk counselors. According to the Thomas More Society, these counselors were peacefully exercising their First Amendment Rights on the public ways near abortion clinics in Chicago, but police were placing “unconstitutional constraints” on the counselors.
In response, the City of Chicago made a motion to dismiss the federal complaint challenge, but in January of 2017, United States District Judge Amy. J. St. Eve denied it. She decided that the alleged inconsistent and discriminatory enforcement of the law was enough to warrant a hearing, even though she could not go so far as to find the law unconstitutional, since it had been upheld in a court higher than hers.
After the hearing, the City of Chicago reached a settlement agreement. The Thomas More Society explains that this was a victory, resulting in rights education for Chicago Police. Officers will now receive training on the following:
- “Pro-life advocates, abortion escorts and clinic personnel, if they approach closer than 8 feet from another person (within the 50 foot radius from a clinic entrance) in order to engage in a covered act, must have consent from the other person;
- An approach to engage in covered acts is allowable if the person approached consents either verbally or nonverbally;
- Just standing in a designated area does not amount to approaching a person within that area — there must be some movement toward the person to constitute an approach.”
The City also agreed to pay all attorney’s fees.
Thomas Olp continues,
“With this settlement, we have secured Chicago’s agreement to train its police force on the correct application of the ordinance. If there continue to be problems in how the ordinance is applied, we will enforce the settlement agreement or re-file new allegations. But we also do intend to continue our argument in the higher courts that the law itself is unconstitutional.”
The Thomas More Society plans to challenge the constitutionality of the “bubble zone” and appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.