IL Governor JB Pritzker working to close loophole exploited for vaccine mandate

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- In the battle over COVID vaccine mandates, Governor JB Pritzker is quietly working behind the scenes to revise a law some groups are invoking to try and avoid the requirement.

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act bans discrimination by public or private institutions "because of such persons conscientious refusal to receive...or participate in any way in any particular form of healthcare services contrary to his or her conscience."

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The Fraternal Order of Police, who have led the fight in Chicago against Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID vaccine mandate for all city employees, are among those looking to use this loophole.

"At face value, it's usable," said FOP president John Catanzara. "I mean, it literally says if you have a firmly held religious belief, a firmly held conscientious belief, against a medical procedure, you are covered by that statute. Period."

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But the ACLU of Illinois said the intent of the law was to protect medical providers from being forced to do things like perform abortions or provide contraceptives contrary to religious beliefs.

"No one ever contemplated that this would be used in a fashion where an individual would be able to opt out of care, of a service, and then collect protection under the right of conscience," said Ed Yohnka, ACLU of Illinois.

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At this point, the governor has not even reached out to the House, but it's clear he wants to take steps to prevent a series of lawsuits.

"The Health Care Right of Conscience Act was never intended to allow people to avoid public health guidance during a global pandemic. The administration supports efforts to clarify the law, so it cannot be misinterpreted by fringe elements," said Emily Bittner, Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor JB Pritzker, in a statement.

But as debate continues over vaccine mandates and what qualifies as a valid exemption, legal challenges of various kinds are expected.
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