A controversial measure to change the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act that would allow for health-related discrimination including the legal termination of workers who do not follow COVID-19 vaccine, mask or other health-related mandates heads to the House floor.
House Sponsor Robyn Gabel said the proposed amendment doesn’t change the law, but clarifies it, “to protect all the people in this state.”
The 1998 Health Right of Conscience Act bans discrimination against a person who declines to receive or participate in any form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.
Ashley Wright with the state Attorney General’s Office told a House committee that without the measure, there will be more lawsuits using the act as a defense against complying with Gov J.B. Pritzker's work-related COVID-19 mandates, and warns of negative health consequences.
“Not passing this bill ultimately means that the state cannot keep people safe, and we’re talking about congregate settings here,” Wright said. “We’re talking about nursing homes, and veterans’ homes. We’re also talking about schools.”
Bob Gilligan with the Catholic Conference of Illinois opposed the measure.
“We’re concerned that if you restrict conscience rights for COVID, well, what’s next,” Gilligan said. “Power given to the government is seldom returned.”
Gilligan said his group doesn't oppose mandated testing, but the measure is far too broad as written.
By the time the House Executive Committee opened Tuesday evening, there were 660 proponents of the change, but more than 48,200 opponents. Republican state Sen. Terri Bryant said she’s never seen that much opposition to a bill before.
“What’s driving it is people basically saying that the government does not have the right to distinguish what is your sincerely held religious belief,” Bryant said.
Democratic state Rep. LaShawn Ford said the amendment isn’t ready and may be the wrong approach to encourage vaccination.
“We have to make sure that we convince people that taking the vaccine is the right thing to do and make sure that they still have that option to have their doctor give the exemption and to make sure they get the religious exemption,” Ford said. “So those are important for me that we maintain the right to.”
The measure passed committee along party lines and is expected to be brought up in the House Wednesday before being sent to the Senate for concurrence.
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