SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate joined the House on Thursday in approving a change to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that was requested by the governor and attorney general, putting it one signature away from becoming law.
The HCRC Act currently prohibits discrimination against anyone for their “conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, accept, perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.”
The bill passed Thursday would add language stating that it is not a violation of the law for an employer “to take any measures or impose any requirements …intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19.”
Its supporters believe the measure will clarify the legislature’s intent as a number of court cases continue through the system in which Illinoisans are challenging COVID-19 vaccine or testing requirements by citing protections afforded in the HCRC Act. It’s needed to close a legal loophole allowing people to flout those mandates, they argued.
Critics of the bill, however, argued the language is overly broad and that the Health Care Right of Conscience Act actually was intended to protect an individual’s right to make his or her own health care decisions.
It passed the Senate 31-24 just before 11 p.m. Thursday with no Republican votes. Because the bill did not receive a three-fifths majority in both chambers, its effective date is set for June 1, 2022, per a provision of the state constitution pertaining to bills passed after May 31.
Supporters, including bill sponsors Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Elgin, and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, argued over the past two days that the measure does not mandate vaccination.
“Contrary to rampant misinformation campaigns, this bill is not a vaccine mandate,” Gabel said Wednesday. “In fact, it does not require anyone to do anything. As the bill itself says, this is simply a declaration of existing law and shall not be construed as a new enactment.”
Harmon argued Thursday night that the existing law should not be applicable to mitigation measures aimed at slowing a deadly pandemic. Those with health care or religious concerns regarding mandate compliance can still access federal exemptions, he said in floor debate.
“The Health Care Right of Conscience Act was adopted in 1977 and was intended, I think fairly clearly, to provide protection to doctors, nurses, pharmacists, other health care professionals who, based on their own conscience, did not want to participate in certain reproductive health care services or …….