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Christian group files complaint over Illinois law requiring pregnancy centers to make abortion referrals

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)Protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Christian advocacy group has filed a federal complaint against the state of Illinois over a new law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to make referrals to abortion clinics.

The complaint was filed on Thursday by the Thomas More Society on behalf of Dr. Jim Gallant, M.D., and Hope Life Center, a pregnancy help center in Sterling Illinois.

The new law, known as Illinois Public Act 99-690, requires pregnancy centers to present abortion as an option and discuss the benefits of the procedure with patients. The centers will also be required to provide referrals to abortion facilities, despite their opposition to abortion.

The Thomas More Society is asking the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights to investigate the claim of religious discrimination and to take appropriate action to prevent the state from applying the law to Gallant, the Hope Life Center and other healthcare providers in Illinois.

Gallant and the Hope Life Center provides free healthcare services to women, including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and consultations.

According to Townhall, the complaint argues that the new rule violates existing federal law, including the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, which prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against healthcare providers based on their refusal to "provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for" abortions.

The society further contended that the new regulation specifically targets pro-life healthcare providers and violates their right to free speech and free exercise of religion.

Thomas Olp, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the Thomas More Society, noted that injunctions have been issued by federal and state courts to temporarily prevent the state from enacting the new law.

He said that the complaint with the Office of Civil Rights was a strategic move and it complements the pending federal and state litigation challenging the new law.

"We believe that P.A. 99-690 violates several federal laws that protect the conscience rights of physicians and other healthcare providers. But some courts have held that only the federal government, not individual citizens, can enforce these laws," Olp stated, as reported by Life News.

"Our administrative action is designed to trigger enforcement action by the federal government. We are hopeful the Trump administration will act on the pro-active pro-life principles it has articulated since the President took office," he added.

The complaint also asks the HHS to "issue interpretive guidelines making it clear that the cited federal laws reach, and prohibit, any state law which, like P.A. 99-690, targets and punishes religious and conscience-based opposition to the practice of abortion."

Townhall noted that the Illinois law, which took effect in January 2017, bears similarities to a California law that will be examined by the Supreme Court this year. The California law requires pregnancy centers to promote free and low-cost contraception and abortion services to patients, despite conscience objections.

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