3 minutes

Political Efforts to Undermine Access to Comprehensive Health Care:

Access to safe, legal abortion is steadily being undermined by legislative efforts that would allow health providers to refuse to offer or refer women for abortion services. These legislative refusals have allowed providers to put personal beliefs above medically accepted standards of care and patients’ health needs.

The Weldon Amendment is a key example. Included as a provision in the annual funding bill for the departments of labor, health and human services, and education every year since 2005, the Weldon Amendment has emboldened health care professionals, health care entities, and insurance plans to refuse to “provide,” “pay for,” “cover,” or “refer for” abortion. It also discourages state and local efforts to preserve access to safe, legal abortion by threatening the loss of critical funding or the filing of frivolous lawsuits.

In 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) issued letters to some of the insurance carriers it regulates notifying them of requirements to comply with California State law requiring coverage of abortion as part of basic health services. The insurance plans complied with state law, but complaints were filed by Life Defense Foundation on behalf of churches, a school, and the California Catholic Conference alleging violation of the Weldon Amendment. On June 21st, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights dismissed these complaints.

The Harm that Refusals Cause:

Now, politicians want to expand and make the Weldon Amendment permanent—with dangerous consequences for women’s health care. A recent legislative proposal, the so-called “Conscience Protection Act,” (“CPA”)(S. 304), would make the Weldon Amendment permanent and allow providers to refuse to “facilitate or “make arrangements for” abortion. Health care entities have already denied and delayed care to women experiencing ectopic pregnancies or miscarriage because they oppose any medical intervention that ends a pregnancy, even when necessary to save a woman’s life.

This bill would allow individual or institutional refusals to provide services, information, referrals, or coverage, which can have very serious emotional, physical, and financial consequences for patients:

  • Under the CPA, a woman could be left stranded without access to a life-saving abortion if the ambulance driver refuses to take her to get the care she needs. In 2004, an ambulance driver in Chicago did exactly that, refusing to drive a woman complaining of abdominal pain from a hospital to an abortion clinic.
  • The CPA and bills like it could leave courts flooded with frivolous lawsuits and potential litigation could have a chilling effect on federal, state, or local efforts to protect women’s access to abortion.
  • Refusal policies, masquerading as “conscience” protections, harm the ability of women to make personal medical decisions based on what is best for their health and well-being in consultation with a trusted health provider and their families.
  • Patients rely on their providers to use their medical expertise and professional training to guide treatment decisions. Refusals based on providers’ personal beliefs undermine the trust that patients place in their providers.