In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court recognized that a woman has a right to make fundamental decisions affecting her health and future, including whether or not to obtain an abortion. In the decades since Roe, women and their families have come to rely on the right to an abortion.
Today, however, the well-established right to an abortion is being attacked under the guise of religious freedom, putting a woman’s ability to obtain a safe, legal abortion in jeopardy. The first refusal law was enacted shortly after Roe, allowing individuals and entities to refuse to provide abortions or sterilizations due to religious beliefs. Since then, nearly every state has adopted a comparable law. Recent years have seen an increase in legislative activity related to refusal laws, as well as an expansion of refusal rights. For example, in some states medical professionals can refuse to provide referrals to women, pharmacists can refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, and hospitals can refuse to offer health care services to which it is opposed.
Religious refusal laws have a detrimental effect on a woman’s ability to access safe and comprehensive healthcare. For some women pregnancy can be dangerous, making access to abortion, sterilization and other contraceptive services vital to the preservation of their health. The failure to provide appropriate care and accurate information not only imposes health risks on women, but also violates fundamental principles of medical ethics, such as informed consent and standards of care.
Besides further restricting women’s access to safe reproductive health services, refusal laws interfere with women’s legal rights. When healthcare entities are permitted to refuse medical treatment, women are stripped of the constitutional right to obtain an abortion and access other reproductive services. In addition, refusal laws further interfere with a woman’s ability to achieve financial stability and participate in her community. Women who are able to plan when and how often they have children are more likely to complete their educations, acquire and maintain jobs, as well as actively participate in their communities. Refusing a woman access to reproductive services, such as abortion, restricts her right to determine her role in society.