Congress Should Act to Protect the Conscience Rights of All Health Care Providers

Press Release

November 13, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute urges Congress to ensure that the conscience rights of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are fully protected in law. Religious Freedom Institute President Tom Farr stated today, “No physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional should be coerced to participate in procedures that violate his or her religious conscience. Congress should ensure that victims of unjust discrimination have direct and immediate recourse to legal remedies in the courts.”

Although federal law has long prohibited unjust coercion of healthcare professionals, current law restricts a healthcare professional’s ability to protect his or her conscience rights.

For example, employers have pressured nurses to participate in abortions or risk losing their jobs. The federal Weldon amendment prohibits discrimination against individual or organizational healthcare providers who do not participate in abortions but fails to include a method for them to vindicate this non-discrimination right in federal court.

Currently, if a healthcare professional or other healthcare provider is threatened or otherwise suffers discrimination for not participating in an abortion, the only recourse under the Weldon amendment is to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

On Capitol Hill last Wednesday, nurses Cathy DeCarlo, Sandra Mendoza, and Fe Vinoya described how their conscience rights had been violated. After 18 years of service as a nurse with the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois, Ms. Mendoza lost her job for refusing to participate in an abortion. She stated that, while Americans may not all agree on abortion, hopefully all can “agree that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of employment on account of their faith.”

In Roe v. Wade (1973) itself, the Supreme Court cited with approval a policy that “neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally-held moral principles.” The same year, Congress enacted protections for health care professionals’ conscience rights in circumstances involving abortion.

In 2004, the Weldon amendment provided additional protections for physicians and nurses – as well as hospitals and other healthcare entities – against discrimination for not performing or participating in abortions. Congresses and Presidents of both parties have approved the Weldon amendment every year since 2004.

Congress should act immediately to ensure that nurses and other healthcare professionals are free to vindicate their rights promptly through our justice system.

The Religious Freedom Institute urges Congress to protect the religion freedom that enables professionals of all faiths to contribute to our society their much-needed healthcare skills and expertise.

Media Contact:
Jeremy P. Barker

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker