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HHS investigating whether Illinois is violating employers’ civil rights by mandating abortion coverage

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker
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. |

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investigating whether an Illinois law that legalizes late-term abortion and requires employers' health insurance plans to pay for elective abortions violates residents' rights. 

The Chicago-based Thomas More Society sent a complaint letter to the HHS in 2019 in response to the then-newly passed Illinois Reproductive Health Act, arguing that the law forces the law firm to choose between two undesirable options: forgo providing insurance for their employees or purchase health insurance plans that cover abortion.

On Jan. 19, the last full day of the Trump administration, Luis E. Perez, deputy director of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, replied, explaining that they would investigate the Act.

“OCR is investigating whether the state of Illinois, through its Department of Insurance and Department of Central Management Services, is discriminating against health plan issuers and plans that would offer health coverage that limited or excluded abortion coverage but for the Reproductive Health Act,” wrote Perez. A copy of his response available for download here.

Michael McHale, attorney with the Society, said in a statement that he and his organization were “pleased that the Office for Civil Rights has taken our complaint seriously.”

“Federal law clearly prohibits this brazen attempt to encroach upon our conscience rights. We await federal intervention to halt this illegal mandate,” he added.

The Christian Post reached out to the Thomas More Society on Thursday which confirmed that the HHS said it will continue its investigation under the Biden administration. 

In June 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act into law, which among other things legalized late-term abortion and broadened the definition of “health of the patient” to include physical, emotional, psychological and familial health and age.

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 described the Act as a “giant step forward for women’s health,” claiming that it “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.”

Months later in October 2019, the Thomas More Society sent a complaint to the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights against the Act, also known as the Illinois Public Act 101-13.

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

McHale, counsel with the Society, wrote in the complaint letter that the Act made it “impossible for us to avoid paying for insurance coverage for abortions.”  

“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 also submitted on behalf of an Illinois-based dental practice that likewise refused on religious grounds to provide insurance coverage for abortion.  

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