The ACLU of Illinois participated actively in a lawsuit raising the fundamental question of whether a private, for-profit business should be permitted to discriminate against some customers on the basis of the proprietor's religious beliefs. We acted as an amicus (friend of the court) in the case, brought by three Illinois pharmacies and their individual owners. The pharmacies challenged a state rule requiring commercial pharmacies in Illinois to dispense or otherwise facilitate patient access to medication approved by the FDA, including contraception.

Particularly, the plaintiffs in this case objected on religious grounds to the requirement that they dispense or otherwise assist patients in accessing contraception based on the religious objections of the corporate owners. We urged the courts to consider the impact that such refusals have on women seeking constitutionally-protected health care.

In September 2012, an Illinois Appellate Court issued a ruling under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA) excusing the plaintiffs from the rule’s requirement but keeping the state rule in place for all other commercial pharmacies in Illinois. In so ruling, the Court expressly rejected the notion that the interests of women seeking access to lawful medication were at all relevant to its analysis of the HCRCA.

In response to this ruling and repeated harms to patients denied care and information under the HCRCA, the ACLU of Illinois led an effort to adopt and enact into law a change to the HCRCA to assure that patients get all the information necessary to make their own medical decisions when a health care provider raises a religious objection and to seek the care they need. The law was passed by both houses of the General Assembly and went into effect in January 2017.  


Lorie Chaiten, Leah Bartelt


Circuit Court for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County Circuit Court


Hon. John W. Belz



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