Abortion notice law clashes with free speech and right-of-conscience laws at suburban pregnancy centers

After the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, federal legislation was passed to represent the interests of doctors and other healthcare workers who have religious or moral objections to the controversial procedure.  These “right-of-conscience” laws  provide a measure of protection for medical personnel who do not want to perform abortions or offer abortion referrals.

In Illinois, all that changed on January 1 of this year, when  Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendment to the legislation officially took effect, requiring clinicians, regardless of their moral convictions, to inform pregnant women  about “all their options,” including abortion.  Healthcare entities must at least provide women with abortion referrals.   There seems to be some concern that patients are not being apprised of all the courses of action they can pursue when they find themselves in a crisis pregnancy.

Two Christian pregnancy centers– 1st Way Pregnancy Support Services (McHenry County) and Pregnancy Aid South Suburbs (Lansing)– and a physician who serves patients at various clinics, have since filed suit in opposition to the enactment.  Plaintiffs point out that the Illinois legislation is a clear violation of federal law.  Furthermore, it tramples on clinicians’ First Amendment Rights, requiring providers to inform patients about a procedure that they believe is morally wrong.

State officials contend that providing information about abortion is a common practice that merely upholds the “standard of care”  that is widely accepted in the medical field.  They argue that patients need to know about all choices available.

Like the crisis pregnancy centers, I have some objections to this law as well.  I echo their assertion that it’s a violation of federal law.  Perhaps the governor and his team need a little review of the Constitution.  In Article VI, they’ll find the Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law is “the Supreme law of the land.”

The doctrine of preemption is also contained therein, stating that even when laws conflict, federal law trumps state law.  In the absence of federal law, nothing stands in the way to prevent a state law from being implemented.  However, according to FindLaw.com, state law may also be allowed to stand if it offers protections to consumers that are not guaranteed under the conflicting federal legislation.

This state statute probably shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the governor’s promise to keep abortion legal in Illinois even if, at the federal level, Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned.  I can only speculate that he assumes that his version of the rules affords greater protection to consumers/residents.

It depends on how you define “protection” and “consumers” or “residents”.  If you consider “protection” to mean simply giving people more choices, regardless of what those choices are, then perhaps Rauner’s modifications to the law could be loosely interpreted as having some substance.

When it comes to consumers, what of the unborn children who end up being aborted?  These most vulnerable “residents-to-be”  are left with no protection.  They aren’t given any options.

State officials and others who support the governor’s move seem to be under the impression that performing abortions is a critical component of the “standard of care” they want to maintain, as if abortion is something that will ensure better outcomes for a mother than she would have if she carried her child to term.

What about the women who suffer abortion complications that result in serious problems or even death?  What about the babies who sometimes survive the procedure?  Too often, they’re simply left to die.  For those infants fortunate enough to receive care after a botched abortion, they often bear scars, missing limbs, and other difficulties that they may have to contend with for the rest of their lives.

And there’s the elephant in the room no one likes to take about:  Many women who have had an abortion come to regret it, spending years, perhaps even the entirety of their lives, mourning for what they lost.

I also agree with the centers’ second objection that the Illinois law is a violation of free speech.  We should not be passing laws that require people to violate their consciences and go against moral absolutes.  Our freedoms and civic duties were granted to us so that we would be able to have legal protection for upholding our values.

If providers are allowed to counsel women about abortion, then we most certainly need to make room for the other side to have its say.  While providing a list of clinics women can go to for the procedure isn’t the same thing as actually performing an abortion, it’s still a violation of one’s scruples if the individual providing the information knows it’s for the purpose of helping some one access a procedure they don’t condone.

Patients bear some of the responsibility in this, too.  If a young woman finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy, she can and should do some research beforehand.  Many people seek out Christian support services because they want to know about alternatives to abortion.

The website for 1st Way clearly states that it’s a pro-life facility.  They’re upfront about their approach.  If clients do some investigating, they’ll know what to expect before they walk in the door.  If they consider terminating the pregnancy as the most viable choice, or one that they seriously want to consider, there are plenty of other places they can go to explore that option.

I don’t think clinicians should be required to provide referrals under the auspices that women “don’t know all their options.”  If anything, in today’s culture, abortion is often highlighted above all other possibilities.  Ours is a society that too often looks down on women who, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, choose to carry the child to term.  If we are to be honest, we should admit that we tend to consider these women and their babies a burden because, in many instances, unexpectedly expectant mothers lack the resources they need to provide an optimal environment for their children.

These pregnancy centers, and others like them, shouldn’t be forced to compromise on their convictions, to relinquish their freedoms, just because their beliefs aren’t consistent with current public sentiment.

The law is stalled in court for now.  While it remains in limbo, it can’t be enforced.  We can only pray that Christian pregnancy centers and physicians will be allowed to continue to exercise the freedom to do what they know is right.

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