Baptist group representing 1,000 churches sues Ill. over law forcing them to cover abortions

The Chicago March for Life, a pro-life rally attended by thousands that took place on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2020. | Matt Dula Photography

A Baptist church organization of about 1,000 member congregations and two businesses have filed a lawsuit against Illinois over a state law that requires insurance providers to cover abortion procedures.

The Illinois Baptist State Association, Southland Smiles, Ltd, and Rock River Cartage, Inc. filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County.

At issue is Sec. 356z.4a, which reads, in part, "no individual or group policy of accident and health insurance that provides pregnancy-related benefits may be issued, amended, delivered, or renewed in this State … unless the policy provides a covered person with coverage for abortion care."

"As a matter of sincerely held religious beliefs, Plaintiffs believe abortion involves the destruction of human life and is gravely wrong and sinful," the lawsuit states.

"Plaintiffs believe that they cannot facilitate access to, subsidize, or otherwise materially cooperate with the provision of abortion without violating their conscience and most sacred and solemn obligations to God, betraying their professed religious faith, and disserving the best interests of their fellow human beings."

The complaint argues, among other things, that the coverage mandate violated Illinois' Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that the government cannot burden an individual's religious liberty, save for a compelling state interest, and in the least restrictive means possible.

"The State has no compelling governmental interest to require Plaintiffs to comply with the Reproductive Health Act," the lawsuit adds.

"The Reproductive Health Act is not narrowly tailored to achieve any compelling governmental interest in a way that is least restrictive to Plaintiffs' rights."

The Baptist association and the businesses are being represented by the Chicago-based law firm, the Thomas More Society, which often takes on religious liberty cases.

Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen said in a statement that he believed state officials had "sat silent in response to the conscientious objections of people of faith to paying for elective abortions."

"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," Breen said.

"The United States 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."

Ameri Klafeta, director of the Women's and Reproductive Rights Project at the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the Thomas More Society's lawsuit.

"It is beyond cruel to try and reduce access to basic health care in the midst of a pandemic," Klafeta said, referring to abortion, according to The State Journal-Register.

"Having lost an argument over the availability of abortion care in the hearts and minds of the American people and the legislature, TMS has run to court in an attempt to impose their religious views on all people in Illinois, including abortion care," she asserted.

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