After six years of waiting, a case contesting an Illinois law that seeks to force doctors and pregnancy help centers to refer for abortion has gone to trial.

The law, SB 1564, “runs roughshod over the free speech, religious exercise, and conscience rights of pro-life physicians and pregnancy help centers,” according to the Thomas More Society, which has filed a joint suit with Alliance Defending Freedom; The justice organizations are representing 10 Care Net-affiliated pregnancy centers, a physician, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

Passed in 2016, SB 1564 forced pregnancy care centers, medical facilities, and physicians who conscientiously object to involvement in abortions to adopt policies that provide women who ask for abortions with a list of providers “they reasonably believe may offer” them.

In July 2017, a federal judge issued a statewide preliminary injunction against enforcement of SB 1564 in a similar case challenging the law, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, et al. v. Treto, Jr. That case has been merged with the current one.

“No one should be forced to express a message that violates their convictions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The government can’t compel medical professionals to choose between violating the law and violating the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Illinois’s law targets pro-life pregnancy centers and doctors specifically because they conscientiously object to abortion.”

“Our clients have spent decades helping women choose life for their unborn babies,” said Thomas Olp, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President and attorney for the plaintiffs. “Our clients view this as a nefarious attempt by the abortion industry to protect its abortion business by silencing pro-life physicians and pregnancy resource centers, that, without a profit motive, try to convince pregnant women to choose life for their unborn child””not abortion.”

The three-day trial concluded on September 22, 2023. A decision is expected in the coming months. The Illinois pregnancy centers represented in the proceedings include 1st Way Life Center, Johnsburg; Focus Women’s Center, McHenry; Pregnancy Aid South Suburbs (PASS), three locations; Mosaic Health, two locations; TLC Pregnancy Services, Elgin; and Informed Choices, two locations.

The plaintiffs’ case included testimony from pregnancy center representatives who talked about how the law would infringe on religious convictions as other abortion laws do.

Judy Cocks, Executive Director of Women’s Help Services (which oversees 1st Way Life Center and Focus Women’s Center), spoke to the core reasons SB 1564 violates the conscience of those who serve at pregnancy help centers. “We are faith-based and that informs everything that we do,” she said.

Cocks testified that some 1st Way volunteers are post-abortive women themselves and choose to volunteer at the pregnancy help center precisely because of those experiences. “There are no medical benefits to abortion,” she said.

Pasha Bohlen, Nurse Manager of Pregnancy Aid South Suburbs (PASS), testified to the resources, services, and counseling women receive daily at her pregnancy help centers.

“We don’t want to bait and switch… we want to be truthful,” she said. Referring for abortion or sharing so-called “benefits” of abortion would go “against the very foundation of our ministry,” Bohen added.

ADF Senior Counsel Theriot said forcing people to promote abortion is unconstitutional. As precedent, he pointed to a 2018 Supreme Court decision in a similar California Case, NIFLA v. Becerra.

Regarding the pending Illinois case, Theriot urged the court “to finally put this issue to rest and allow pro-life pregnancy centers to continue their life-affirming work without fear of government punishment.”