A health care provider’s religious beliefs should never determine the care a patient receives. Yet religious exemption laws allow health care providers like hospitals, doctors, nurses, and health insurance companies, to do just that—allowing them to refuse to treat a woman seeking an abortion because of religious or moral beliefs.
Federal Religious Exemption Laws Allow Religious Beliefs to Dictate Patient Care
There are a number of federal laws – most notably the so-called Church Amendments, Coats Amendment, and Weldon Amendment – that allow various health care providers to refuse to provide care to a woman seeking an abortion. The Weldon Amendment – which is not permanent, but rather has been attached yearly to the annual Labor-HHS appropriations bill – is the most far-reaching. It allows insurance plans to refuse to cover a woman’s abortion and even allows individual health care providers like doctors and nurses to refuse to provide women with referrals for abortion.
These religious exemption laws allow hospitals, doctors, and nurses to determine a patient’s care based on religious beliefs, not based on what is best for the patient’s health and circumstances.
Voters Oppose Religious Exemption Laws and Are Willing to Hold Elected Leaders Accountable
In a March 2017 nationally representative survey done on behalf of the National Women’s Law Center, 61 percent of voters opposed religious exemption laws, with 43 percent of voters strongly opposing these laws. Majority opposition to these religious exemption laws includes voters who identify as Catholic (57 percent oppose) and as Protestants (51 percent oppose).
- Seventy-three percent of voters oppose laws that allow insurance companies to refuse to cover a woman’s abortion, birth control, or medical care for a miscarriage because of religious or moral beliefs.
- Seventy-one percent of voters oppose laws that allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman with information or referrals about abortion, birth control, or medical care for a miscarriage because of religious or moral beliefs.
- Sixty-seven percent of voters oppose laws that allow hospitals to refuse to treat a woman seeking an abortion, birth control, or medical care for a miscarriage because of religious or moral beliefs.
The survey also showed that voters are willing to hold their representatives in state legislatures and Congress accountable for their votes on religious exemption laws, and are more likely to support an elected official for opposing a religious exemption law.
Abortion Opponents are Seeking to Expand Religious Exemption Laws
Despite the widespread opposition from voters, some members of Congress continue to push religious exemption laws in order to undermine women’s access to abortion. Abortion opponents are calling for an expansion of the Weldon Amendment through measures like the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA), the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (HCCRA), or the Conscience Protection Act (CPA).
The Trump-Pence Administration is also attempting to expand religious exemption laws. In January 2018, the Trump-Pence Administration proposed a broad and dangerous rule that would allow religious beliefs to dictate patient care in virtually all facets of health care. The proposed rule would, among other things, expand existing harmful religious exemption laws to allow more individuals and health care entities to use their beliefs to prevent patients from getting the care they need. For example, the proposed rule could allow a receptionist to refuse to schedule a patient’s abortion, or an ambulance driver to refuse to transport a woman who needs care for a miscarriage.
Religious exemption laws like these allow health care providers to place their religious beliefs ahead of patient care. Our government should instead be focused on ensuring that patients get the care they need, including abortion.