March 25, 2012

CMA Joins Amicus Brief Protesting Blagojevich Rule

On Friday, March 23, the Catholic Medical Association joined several organizations of Christian professionals in a brief filed in the Illinois appellate court against the “Blagojevich Rule,” a regulation that would force Illinois pharmacists to dispense abortion-inducing drugs despite their religious and moral convictions.  “At a time when there is a critical shortage of pharmacists, a regulation that forces pharmacists to choose between their jobs and their religious beliefs recklessly threatens the health care of all citizens of Illinois,” stated Kim Colby, Senior Counsel for Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, which submitted the brief.

Twice the Illinois General Assembly has acted to protect religious conscience rights.  In 1977, the General Assembly passed the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act specifically to protect the conscience rights of health care workers.  In 1998, the Illinois General Assembly enacted, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to give maximum protection to all citizens’ religious exercise.  Ignoring these laws, in 2005, then-Governor Blagojevich insisted on adopting a regulation that would compel pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the drug commonly called “Plan B,” which many health care professionals regard as an abortion-inducing drug.  The regulation was swiftly challenged in Illinois courts as a violation of state conscience protections and the federal constitutional right of the free exercise of religion. In April 2011, an Illinois circuit court ruled that the regulation was unconstitutional and violated state conscience laws.  The state appealed that decision.  The brief filed today urges the appellate court to uphold the circuit court’s decision.  It emphasizes that then-Governor Blagojevich overreached when he ignored the legislature’s repeated protection of all Illinois citizens’ conscience rights.

The friend-of-the-court brief was joined by Christian Legal Society, Christian Medical and Dental Associations, Catholic Medical Association, Catholic Conference of Illinois, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International.  The brief was prepared by Kevin Todd and John Lillig of the law firm of Hoogendoorn & Talbot LLP, Chicago, Illinois.  In a national survey, over nine in ten (91%) of faith-based physicians indicated, “I would rather stop practicing medicine altogether than be forced to violate my conscience.”[1]  Protecting faith-based health care professionals should be a top-priority in order to insure health care access for millions of Americans—especially the poor and medically underserved patients who are most likely to count on faith-based health care.

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