When it comes to conscience clauses, the simple truth is that no one wants to force anyone to do something that goes against his or her morals. But at what point does moral objections trump another person’s right to care? That’s a question that will no doubt be at the center of the new Trump administration.
Among many of the campaign promises that President Donald Trump made in order to woo the far right during his presidential run was a vow to protect “religious liberty” once he was in office.
Religious liberty — at least when it comes to Christianity — certainly hasn’t been in any real danger, especially thanks in part to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which forbids the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.”
But as the government has trended further in favor of the idea that women deserve to have sex without the risk of pregnancy, that committed couples of the same gender should be able to legally marry each other, and that those who are transgender shouldn’t be forced to identity with a different gender, the religious right has cocooned itself into a ball where any law that causes them to deviate from the rules in the Bible is now officially infringing on their religious beliefs.
Now, they have a president that has promised to fix it all for them, and a Congress eager to help. First stop? Abortion.
This month the House introduced The Conscience Protection Act, a bill which is meant to add additional protection for those who religiously object to abortion and birth control by allowing them to file civil suits against those they believe are “discriminating” against them by punishing them when they do not offer care. “The Conscience Protection Act would protect health care providers from federal, state, and local abortion mandates if they conscientiously object to assisting with abortions,” explains CNA News. “It would also protect religious employers from having to cover elective abortions in their health plans, and establishes a ‘right of action’ for all entities if they believe their religious beliefs on the matter are violated.”
Coercion (unless it’s trying to convince a pregnant person not to have an abortion) is a very bad thing, according to affected Republicans, and it simply has to stop. “[Bill sponsor Nebraska Rep. Jeff] Fortenberry said the Conscience Protection Act will ‘enable health care professionals and organizations to serve by their core convictions without coercion,'” The Washington Times reports. “‘Conscience is the sacred space of human dignity where persons exercise their sincerely held, reasoned beliefs,’ Mr. Fortenberry said in a statement. ‘It is a true poverty that this most cherished American principle is under assault, violating the good of persons and communities.'”
Most states already have conscience legislation already in place, and some even allow people to not only refuse to provide or facilitate abortion or birth control services, but don’t even mandate that someone else be brought in who can offer the service instead. For a woman who — for instance — needs a birth control prescription filled at the only pharmacy in her town, that’s a serious problem.
It’s also an issue when time is of the essence, and that’s where things can get really scary. For sexual assault survivors who go to a hospital for a rape kit, finding out that the medical practitioner in charge — or even the entire hospital itself — refuses to offer emergency contraception means that the risk for pregnancy will increase dramatically, since the medicine needs to be taken within days to be most effective.
And yes, hospitals will deny the medicine, even to those who have been raped. A new report from Wisconsin uncovered that 22 hospitals were not giving emergency contraception information and medication to those who came in reporting sexual assault. In response, Pro-Life Wisconsin Legislative Director Matt Sande argued that many of those hospitals were likely religious and shouldn’t have to offer EC at all. “If there are hospitals among these 22 that are noncompliant because they feel the law is a violation of their religious freedom, they ought to challenge it,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “There are grounds to do so.”
While so far, we are only seeing federal legislation aimed at reproductive health services, you can be sure that this is only where the “religious refusal” protections will start. With the GOP controlling the House, Senate and White House, and religious liberty champion Neil Gorsuch soon to join the Supreme Court, there’s no telling where this push will end.