On Friday, the Illinois court of appeals upheld a decision that allows pharmacists and medical dispensaries to refuse to give out emergency contraceptives on the grounds of religion.
The court found that state law protects the dispensaries and medical professionals. The law reads, “No physician or health care personnel shall be civilly or criminally liable to any person, estate, public or private entity or public official by reason of his or her refusal to perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care service which is contrary to the conscience of such physician or health care personnel.”
This can be relatively broadly interpreted. However, the court also decided that the same exemption is allowed to medical corporations, bringing the question “Can a corporation have a religion?” into sharp relief.
Think Progress reports:
The court rejected the ACLU’s argument that prescribing emergency contraceptives fell under an exception in the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience for “emergency medical care,” even though doctors testified that the contraceptive was most effective when taken immediately after unprotected intercourse.
But it is perplexing, to say the least, that the court extended that protection to the corporate plaintiffs, which had established across-the-board policies of refusing to provide emergency contraceptives. In making no distinction whatsoever between the right of individuals to exempt themselves from the law because of their personal religious views, and the alleged rights of the corporate entity to impose those views on employees, the court not only raises the question of whether a corporation can exercise religion (at issue in Colorado litigation over contraception); it also disregards the statute’s explicit reference to ”physicians” and “health care personnel” individually, and not to pharmacies, hospitals or any other such entities.
Also, if corporate personhood is overturned, where would that put the “rights” of corporations in this case? And while the state may provide that definition and thus allow the court to make the decision it did, what about federal laws? This case is something to pay attention to in the battle for women’s rights.