JB Pritzker

Pritzker Signs Amendment Removing ‘Conscience' as Basis for Resisting COVID Vaccine Mandates

The bill was passed to remove conscientious objections as a method to get around COVID vaccination and mask mandates

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed Senate Bill 1169 into law, which he says will “clarify the legislative intent” of a bill originally designed to allow medical professionals to refuse to refuse or participate in healthcare services that violated their personal beliefs, but had been used recently to allow individuals to “improperly” evade COVID-19 vaccination, testing and masking requirements in the state.

According to a press release, the bill alters the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, and will remove conscientious objections as a basis for refusing to adhere to COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates in the state of Illinois.

Religious and health exemptions are still permitted, according to the press release.

“Masks, vaccines and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Keeping workplaces safe is a high priority, and I applaud the General Assembly for ensuring that the Health Care Right of Conscience Act is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”

The bill will go into effect on June 1, 2022. It passed the Illinois House by a 64-52 margin, with two legislators voting “present,” and passed the Senate 31-24, sending the measure to Pritzker’s desk.

The votes were split mostly along party lines, with Democrats largely supporting the measure.

“Despite deliberate attempts to misinform the public, nothing about this law takes away anyone’s rights to claim religious or medical exemption, which are protected by federal law,” House Speaker Chris Welch said. “While only a small minority of people are skirting COVID-19 requirements, our goal is to make sure workers in high-risk environments are doing what’s needed to fulfill their responsibility to public health and keep everyone alive and healthy.”

Republicans criticized the bill as an overreach by Pritzker and Democrats.

“Senate Bill 1169 is a direct assault on an individuals’ right to make healthcare decisions for themselves,” State Sen. Jason Plummer said in a statement. “The governor can’t stand the fact that the people of Illinois have had enough of his mandates, and are standing up for their rights.”

According to Pritzker’s office, the Health Care Right of Conscience Act was originally passed to allow medical professionals to refuse to participate in healthcare services that are contrary to their personal beliefs, including abortion.

Some attorneys in Illinois have used the bill to aid clients that oppose mask and vaccination mandates amid the COVID pandemic, which Democrats were aiming to stop in drafting the edits to the bill that passed earlier this year.

Language was inserted into the bill stating that it is not a violation of the law to “take any measure or impose any requirements intended to prevent contraction or transmission or COVID-19.”

Individuals’ employment can be terminated, or individuals can be excluded from schools or places of employment if they fail to adhere to company mandates under provisions of the bill.

Several Republican candidates for governor, including State Sen. Darren Bailey, also spoke out against the bill, and praised fellow lawmakers who voted against the measure.

“Thank those who stood with us and voted no, and remember those who voted yes,” Bailey said after the Senate vote to approve the measure. “They must be held accountable and voted out next November.”

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