Conservative group calls on HHS to stop Illinois from forcing them to cover abortions

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his first budget address to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate at the Illinois State Capitol on February 20, 2019, in Springfield, Illinois.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his first budget address to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate at the Illinois State Capitol on February 20, 2019, in Springfield, Illinois. | E. Jason Wambsgans/Pool/Getty Images

A conservative legal group has filed a complaint against the state of Illinois over a provision in its new abortion law that compels health insurance policies to cover elective abortions.

The Chicago-based Thomas More Society sent a complaint to the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday regarding Illinois Public Act 101-13, also known as the Reproductive Health Act.

At issue was Section 910-30 of the act, which mandates that state-based health insurance programs cover all “contraceptive drugs, devices, and other products approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration” with the exception of male condoms, and Section 5/356z.4a, which mandates coverage for “abortion care.”

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Michael McHale, counsel with the Thomas More Society, said in the complaint letter that the new law directly impacts them, as it “makes it impossible for us to avoid paying for insurance coverage for abortions” and puts them in a “double bind.”

“Either we purchase health insurance plans that cover abortion and violate our deeply held religious and moral principles, or we abide by our principles and forgo providing insurance, thereby violating our conscientious duties to offer appropriate benefits to our employees and severely undermining our ability to provide a suitable place of employment,” wrote McHale.

The complaint was submitted not only on behalf of the Thomas More Society, but also an Illinois-based dental practice that likewise refuses on religious grounds to provide insurance coverage for abortions.

The complaint also argues that Illinois’ Act violates the Weldon Amendment, a federal statute that prohibits federal funding from going to states that discriminate against healthcare plans that refuse to cover abortion.

“None of the funds made available in this Act may be made available to a federal agency or program, or to a state or local government, if such agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the healthcare entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions,” reads the amendment in part.

McHale wrote that the Illinois law’s mandate on abortion coverage “explicitly violates the plain text of the federal Weldon Amendment” and “jeopardizes the state’s federal funds.”

He requested “urgent intervention” on the part of HHS, as they and the dental company begin their next insurance plans on Dec. 1 and Nov. 1, respectively.

In June, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Illinois Reproductive Health Act, a new law that, among other things, effectively legalized elective abortion up to the moment of birth.

Other provisions in the act include requiring private insurance companies to cover abortion without an explicit religious exemption and allowing non-physicians to perform abortions.

In a statement released at the time, Pritzker labeled the new law a “giant step forward for women’s health.”

“The Reproductive Health Act ensures that women's rights in Illinois do not hinge on the fate of Roe v. Wade, or the whims of an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. In this state, women will always have the right to reproductive health care,” he said.

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