Small businesses and a religious group are suing Illinois over a law requiring that all health insurance policies sold in the state provide coverage for elective chemical and surgical abortions, with no exemptions, even for churches.
The lawsuit, cited as Illinois Baptist State Association v. Illinois Department of Insurance, was filed June 10 by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a public-interest law firm that specializes in religious freedom issues. The plaintiffs are the Illinois Baptist State Association, dental practice Southland Smiles and its owner Dr. Richard Mantoan, and Rock River Cartage and its owner Curt House.
The plaintiffs are challenging the state Reproductive Health Act of 2019, in which the legislature mandated that every health insurance plan in Illinois that provides pregnancy-related benefits also provide coverage for abortion. They argue this mandate violates their rights under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which both safeguard the plaintiffs’ “sincerely held religious beliefs which forbid them from funding and providing employee health care coverage for abortion,” according to the legal complaint filed in Sangamon County state court.
The plaintiffs allege that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, the Department of Insurance, and its director, Robert Muriel, have failed to protect the plaintiffs’ rights. They ask the court to declare the mandate unlawful and preliminarily enjoin the state from enforcing it.
The Reproductive Health Act repealed the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, which provided for spousal consent, waiting periods, restrictions on abortion facilities, and criminal penalties for violations.
The 2019 law created a “fundamental right” for pregnant women to have abortions. It also declared that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.” Pritzker, who signed the measure into law a year ago, has vowed to make Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to standing up for women’s reproductive rights,” according to a Chicago Tribune summary.
“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,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society.
The Supreme Court “has repeatedly condemned this sort of government coercion against people of faith, including in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. decision,” he said.
The Hobby Lobby case was a challenge to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the Obamacare statute. The Christian arts and crafts chain store owners, who say they run their business on biblical principles, believed that the use of contraception was immoral and resisted offering it in their employment-based group health care plans, as required under the Obamacare law. Exemptions were available for religious employers and nonprofit religious institutions, but no exemption applied to Hobby Lobby because it was a for-profit organization.
In a 5–4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court held that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 gives for-profit companies the ability to deny contraception coverage to employees based on a religious objection.
“Illinois law protects the sincerely held beliefs of our state’s nonprofits and businesses, but our state’s politicians and bureaucrats have sat silent in response to the conscientious objections of people of faith to paying for elective abortions,” Breen said.
“We have very strong claims,” Breen told The Epoch Times in an interview. “We are hoping to get this mandate thrown out.”
“The Department of Insurance has not taken any steps to give any relief to churches and business owners of faith, so we’ve been forced to go into court to secure those rights for our clients.”
No hearing date for the injunction application has been scheduled yet, he said. The courts in Illinois are still operating remotely, he said, presumably because of containment efforts aimed at the CCP virus that causes the disease COVID-19.
The Illinois Department of Insurance didn’t immediately respond to inquiries by The Epoch Times.