Illinois governor signs COVID-19 vaccine amendment to ‘right of conscience’ law

On Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a change to the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The amendment, Senate Bill 1169, would allow repercussions for those who previously used the act to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.

The law had been adopted in 1978 in order to protect physicians who refused to perform abortions due to a religious or moral objection from facing discipline or penalty.

Pritzker was asked by Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul to encourage legislation to clarify that the law was not intended to apply to a pandemic. “Masks, vaccines, and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” said Pritzker. He thanked lawmakers for making sure the law “is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.” 

Language was added to the bill stating that it is not a violation of the law to “take any measure or impose any requirements intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19.”

The measure means employees can be terminated or anyone can be excluded from schools or places of employment if they do not adhere to company mandates. Employees have already filed lawsuits citing that they cannot be punished for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because the law allows a conscience-based exemption.

Some workers have also sought exemptions from measures like wearing face coverings or being tested frequently. Democrats in the state legislature generally supported the change while emphasizing that religious exemptions are still available; some experts, though, dispute the availability of those exemptions under three federal statutes.

Republicans have criticized the amendment, calling it an overreach by Pritzker and members of the Democratic Party. State Sen. Jason Plummer said in a statement, “Senate Bill 1169 is a direct assault on an individuals’ right to make healthcare decisions for themselves. The governor can’t stand the fact that the people of Illinois have had enough of his mandates, and are standing up for their rights.” Currently, the law will not take effect until June 1, but that date could change.

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