The President’s budget proposal and the Department of Health & Human Services corresponding budget proposal were released today. These documents, in addition to devastating crucial programs like Medicaid and otherwise jeopardizing women’s health and economic security, confirm that this administration cares more about protecting health care providers that refuse to treat a woman seeking an abortion than it cares about patient health.
The Trump Administration has repeatedly stated a commitment to allowing entities that receive taxpayer dollars to deny medical care because of religious beliefs. The HHS budget proposal continues this pattern, specifically reasserting a commitment to “protecting conscience rights [of] individuals, providers, and entities that object to abortion and sterilization procedures.”
Three federal laws allow health care entities to refuse to provide care: the Church Amendments, the Coats Amendment, and the Weldon Amendment. All three laws allow health care entities to refuse to provide patient care, but the Weldon Amendment is the most expansive. This Amendment is a little known but dangerous provision that has been added as a rider to the HHS budget every year since 2004, and is included again in this year’s budget. It withholds HHS funding from any entity that “discriminates” against health care institutions, providers, or insurance carriers that refuse to participate in abortion. This means that the Trump Administration is protecting health care entities that refuse, for any reason, to “provide, pay for, provide [insurance] coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
We know that refusals to provide abortion information and services put women’s lives and health in danger. Some hospitals have turned away women seeking abortion or information about abortion, even when the woman’s life is in jeopardy. These kinds of refusals put religious and personal beliefs over patients’ needs and can result in infertility, infection, and even death.
Furthermore, we know that U.S. voters do not support policies that allow and expand refusals. A 2017 nationwide survey conducted by the National Women’s Law Center found that the majority of voters oppose policies that allow health care providers, like hospitals, doctors, nurses, and health insurance companies, to refuse to treat a woman seeking abortion.
The President’s budget’s explicit commitment to putting religious and personal beliefs above patient care is unacceptable. Patients should never be turned away for the care they need because of a provider’s religious or personal beliefs.