Should the government be allowed to force someone to express a message they have strong moral objections to? Most Americans would answer no, but that is exactly what Illinois officials have sought to do to pro-life doctors and pregnancy centers for over seven years—despite Alliance Defending Freedom having won a Supreme Court decision in 2018 that invalidated a similar law in California.
No one should be targeted by the government for peacefully living out their beliefs—least of all, those who offer free, lifesaving help to those in need.
What does Illinois SB 1564 do?
In 2016, Illinois enacted SB 1564, an amendment to the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act. Passed under the guise of “protecting patients,” SB 1564 would force pro-life doctors and pregnancy centers to refer for abortions, regardless of their moral objections.
While pro-life medical professionals know that abortion ends the life of an unborn child, SB 1564 would force them to lie and tell women about the so-called “benefits” of abortion and that it is a “treatment option” for pregnancy. The law would also force conscientious objectors to “refer,” “transfer,” or “provide” written information to a patient “about other health care providers who they reasonably believe may offer” abortion. These provisions defeat the very purpose of life-saving pregnancy centers.
The law was manufactured to target conscientious objectors like pro-life medical professionals and pregnancy centers, all because the government dislikes their views. And just a few years later, Illinois passed another law targeting pro-life pregnancy centers, regulating their speech when they advertise their services.
In 2015 and 2016, ADF sent letters to both state legislators and the governor warning them that SB 1564, if passed, would violate federal law. Unfortunately, in August 2016, the governor signed the amendment into law. ADF then filed federal and state lawsuits challenging SB 1564.
Thankfully, in December 2016 and August 2017 respectively, both state and federal courts agreed to put an injunction on the amendment, preventing it from going into effect. Now, after six years, pro-life pregnancy centers are getting their day in court.
Who is opposing SB 1564?
ADF is representing the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) and several pro-life pregnancy centers in a federal lawsuit challenging SB 1564. ADF is also representing the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford and two other pregnancy centers in state court challenging the law.
One of these pregnancy centers, Mosaic Health, is led by Kathy Lesnoff. Kathy used to work at one of the largest abortion facilities in the Midwest. But after putting her faith in Jesus Christ and participating in an abortion for a woman who was 23 weeks pregnant, she knew that abortion was deliberately taking an unborn baby’s life, and she left the facility. But she still felt burdened to help women who found themselves with an unplanned pregnancy.
So, in 1987, 5 years later, she founded Mosaic Health, a pro-life pregnancy center that provides help, services, and pro-life information to women so that they will be supported in choosing to give birth—things like pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, counseling, car seats, diapers, the list goes on.
Since it was founded, Mosaic Health has helped over 19,000 women. Pro-life pregnancy centers like Mosaic serve people across the country. In 2019 alone, 2,700 U.S. pregnancy centers served roughly two million women, men, and youth with services valued at over $266 million. Pregnancy centers are there to help when no one else is.
Can the government force pro-life workers to refer for abortion?
No. In 2018, NIFLA, represented by ADF, won a landmark victory at the Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra. In its ruling, the High Court confirmed that the First Amendment protects pro-life pregnancy centers from having to refer for abortion. That principle holds true in these cases as well.
No one should be forced to express a message that violates their convictions—not pro-life pregnancy centers or any other American.
- May 2015: ADF sent a letter to Illinois legislators on behalf of numerous pro-life physicians, pregnancy care centers, and pregnancy care center network organizations advising them that SB 1564 would violate federal law.
- May 2016: After the bill was passed, ADF sent a similar letter to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.
- July 2016: Rauner signed SB 1564 into law, forcing medical facilities and physicians who conscientiously object to involvement in abortions to adopt policies that provide women who ask for abortions with a list of providers “they reasonably believe may offer” them.
- August 2016: ADF filed a lawsuit in state court against Illinois officials for forcing pro-life doctors and pregnancy care centers to promote abortion regardless of their ethical or moral views.
- September 2016: ADF filed a similar lawsuit in federal court.
- December 2016: An Illinois state court issued an injunction halting enforcement of SB 1564.
- July 2017: A federal district court issued an injunction halting enforcement of SB 1564.
- September 2023: After six years, trial was held for the case in federal court.