Religious Refusals of health care

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A hospital’s or health care provider’s personal beliefs should never dictate patient care. Yet the “Project Blitz” playbook includes bills that would expand the ability of institutional and individual health care providers to determine patient care based not on what is best for the patient, but on the provider’s personal beliefs. These kinds of religious exemption laws allow and embolden providers to place their personal beliefs above patient care.

Religious Refusal Bills

The “Licensed Professional Civil Rights Act” attempts to allow any individual who holds or is seeking a professional license to base their professional practice not on the standards of the profession but on the individual’s personal beliefs. In the health care context, the bill would allow hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to deny patient care based on their personal beliefs. The bill would also allow hospitals to stop doctors from providing care to patients.

The “Preserving Religious Freedom Act” or “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) attempts to allow individuals, including health care providers, to avoid complying with generally applicable laws and regulations if the individual claims those laws “substantially burden” their personal religious beliefs. This bill could enable hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to refuse to treat patients based on a provider’s personal beliefs.

Messaging and Talking Points

The overall message strategy should keep the focus on the questions: “What do patients need?” and “What are the consequences for patients?” It should also focus the discussion on patients’ health, not religious exemptions.

DON’T SAY: Conscience Clause or Conscience Protection

SAY: Refusal of Care laws or religious exemption laws.

DON’T SAY: There are already conscience protections in the law.

SAY: Existing refusal of care laws already allow health care providers to put their religious beliefs before patient care. This bill would expand those laws in dangerous new ways.

1) A PATIENT’S HEALTH SHOULD ALWAYS COME FIRST

  • This bill would allow hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other individuals and institutions to deny a patient standard medical care based on their personal beliefs, not based on what is best for the patient.

  • Personal beliefs should never determine the care a patient receives.

2) REFUSAL OF CARE MEANS PATIENTS LOSE ACCESS TO CRITICAL HEALTH CARE

  • Women will be denied access to standard medical care.

  • Hospitals have refused to treat or refer someone who needs an abortion.

  • Women suffering miscarriages have been denied the critical medical care they need.

  • For women in small towns or rural areas, or in an emergency situation, a hospital or pharmacy saying “no” means women don’t get the care they need.

  • No woman should be denied emergency contraception or turned away from a hospital when she has survived a sexual assault.

3) NO TAXPAYER-FUNDED REFUSALS OF CARE

  • The bill would allow hospitals that take taxpayer dollars to deny medical care because of religious beliefs.

  • Entities like hospitals that take taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to use religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to treat or serve a patient, including a woman seeking abortion.

4) NO WOMAN SHOULD BE SHAMED OR REFUSED MEDICAL CARE BECAUSE OF THE RELIGIOUS OR MORAL BELIEFS OF A HOSPITAL, PHARMACY, OR PROVIDER.

  • Health care providers should not be allowed to shame women for their personal health decisions. A woman should be able to rely on health care providers to offer information without shame or judgment about all her medical options so she can make the best decision for her and her family.

5) FREEDOM OF RELIGION IS IMPORTANT AND ALREADY PROTECTED.

Note: we recommend using this talking point for LGBTQ issues, not for reproductive health care.

  • Freedom of religion is important; it’s one of our nation’s fundamental values. That’s why it’s already protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But that freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to hurt people or impose one’s beliefs on others.

NOTE: The consequences of a bill may vary depending on its precise language and interaction with other state laws and regulations. All messages should be tailored to the exact language of the bill being discussed.

For more information and resources on messaging around religious refusals for reproductive health care, contact the National Women's Law Center. For more information and resources on messaging around religious refusals for health care facing LGBTQ communities, please contact the Movement Advancement Project and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

For help connecting with existing state-level coalitions that may already be working to combat bills that expand religious refusals for health care, please contact Heather Shumaker at the National Women’s Law Center at hshumaker@nwlc.org.