Illinois Amends Health Care Right of Conscience Act to Address COVID-19 Exemptions

November 19, 2021
Inside HR
HR Compliance
Disaster Planning
Read time: 2 mins

Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed a change to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act in an effort to eliminate abuse of the law by those wishing to obtain COVID-19 vaccination exemptions. The law, as originally intended, was created to protect physicians from penalty or discipline for refusing to perform abortions due to personal religious or moral beliefs. This amendment clarifies that the law does not extend to instances where medical objections contradict care intended to combat a contagious and deadly pandemic.

This change is in response to the growing number of lawsuits filed by employees requesting exemptions under the prior version of the law. The suits include claims for exemptions from vaccination as well as wearing face coverings or testing for the virus. Cases have also been filed in Maine and New York, stating that the Civil Rights Act and Free Exercise of Religious Freedom clause of the U.S. Constitution allow exemptions due to religious beliefs and observances. Those may go as far as the Supreme Court to determine a final resolution.

The law will not take effect until June 1, 2022, due to the narrow margin of those in favor of the revision. Illinois state law requires a hold on the effective dates after a vote with such a close margin (31-24 in favor in the Illinois Senate and 64-52-2 in favor in the Illinois House). Another vote may be held if more support in favor of the change is obtained, which could move the effective date to January 1, 2022.

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