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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Health Care Providers’ Religious Objections to Medical Treatment: Legal Issues Related to Religious Discrimination in Employment and Conscience Clause Provisions

Cynthia Brougher
Legislative Attorney

Edward C. Liu
Legislative Attorney

Federal law provides various legal protections for individuals who object for religious reasons to performing certain tasks required by their employer. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and statutory nondiscrimination laws provide general protection to individuals wishing to exercise their religious beliefs without interference from the government or employers. An individual’s right of refusal may also be protected by specific legislation known as “conscience clauses.” These protections often arise with health care providers, including doctors and pharmacists, who object to assisting with certain reproductive procedures or dispensing birth control. Most often, objections are raised by doctors or hospitals who object to performing abortion procedures because of religious beliefs or affiliations.

Medical providers with religious objections to certain treatments highlight the tension between patients’ access to treatment and health providers’ religious freedom. In a recent example of this debate, December 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule to ensure compliance with conscience clauses enacted beginning in the 1970s to protect individuals who object to abortion and other procedures. The rule took effect on January 20, 2009, but was subsequently partially rescinded by the Obama Administration in February of 2011, based on concerns that a broad reading of the 2008 final rule could be interpreted to limit patients’ access to certain health care services.

This report will discuss situations in which religious objections may be raised in health care. The report will examine the legal protections for individuals with religious and moral objections to their employment duties offered by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and federal conscience clauses. Finally, the report will analyze the two sets of protections and how they may affect health care providers who have religious objections to medical procedures.

Date of Report: July 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R40722
Price: $29.95

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