ACLU Campaign to Stop Religious Refusals

In 2010, Tamesha Means‘ water broke prematurely at 18 weeks. She went to the hospital twice in extreme pain, but staff sent her home both times. They also failed to tell her that her fetus would not likely survive and that continuing the pregnancy would put her at great risk. When Means returned a third time with an infection, as the staff was sending her home again, she went into labor and the baby died within hours.

Because Mercy Health in Michigan is a Catholic-sponsored hospital, it permits religious refusals of healthcare. As a result, the staff neither told Means the reality of her situation, nor that they would and could refuse her the best and safest care–an abortion–even when her life and health were at risk.

One in ten hospitals in the USA is Catholic-affiliated and can prioritize religious directives over patients rights.

In Illinois, it’s worse. The Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA), passed in 1977, is the broadest refusal law in the USA. It permits any health care provider in Illinois to deny information and health care based solely upon the provider’s religious beliefs.

Religious refusals include: pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control pills and emergency contraception; health care providers refusing to perform tubal ligations or vasectomies; hospitals refusing to give complete information about treatment options to women miscarrying; hospitals refusing to provide information about emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault; doctors refusing to provide healthcare to LGBT persons and couples; and any provider refusing to transfer or refer patients to receive medical treatment. While situations may differ, religion is used to justify discrimination and harm.

The ACLU defends the fundamental freedom of religious liberty. The ACLU also fights to ensure that no one is discriminated against or refused services because of someone’s else religious belief.

The ACLU of Illinois  initiative to Put Patients First would guarantee that health care needs are not compromised by religious beliefs of healthcare providers. Under this legislation, patients would receive full information about all treatment options as well as the medical care they need, and health care providers would be required to put patient safety first. The ACLU is using litigation, legislative advocacy, and public education to investigate cases in Illinois where residents were harmed by denial of information and health care.

Have you or someone you know had restricted or denied health care or been discriminated against based upon sexual orientation or transgender status? Tell the ACLU your story.

To fix dangerous law and put patients first, SB 1564 was introduced into the Senate this week.

The ACLU of Illinois presented the above information to the Section of Family Planning on February 26, 2015.

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