Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a change to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act Monday that would allow those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine to potentially face punishment.
The original law was adopted in 1978 to protect physicians from penalty or discipline for refusing to perform abortions because of religious or moral objections, U.S. News reports.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul requested Pritzker encourage legislation to make it clear that the law was not intended to cover the pandemic.
“Masks, vaccines and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” Pritzker said, thanking lawmakers for making sure the law “is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”
Employees in the state have filed lawsuits arguing they cannot be punished for refusing the vaccine because the law provides a conscience-based exemption.
Exemptions are still available federally - under the Civil Rights Act. Two cases invoking the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise of Religion clause are ongoing in Maine and New York, both of which could head to the Supreme Court.
“I hope this provides clarity to the situation as we work to protect the public’s health and beat back this pandemic that has taken so much from us,” Senate President Don Harmon said.
The law will take effect on June 1, 2022, though Democrats wanted an immediate effective date.