BLOGAfter the Election: Defending the Freedom of Conscience in Healthcare

By Kevin Theriot Posted on: | December 08, 2016

The freedom of conscience for medical practitioners and related healthcare professionals has come under increasing attack in recent years. Examples abound of individuals and institutions being compelled to act against their will and their beliefs.

For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently sued Trinity Health, which provides healthcare in accordance with Roman Catholic teaching, and is particularly dedicated to serving impoverished communities.  In keeping with the dictates of Catholic doctrine—which is the source of its charitable mission—Trinity Health holds to the Ethical and Religious Directives issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which states that “[a]bortion… is never permitted.”  (It is important to note that the same Directive permits Catholic hospitals, like those in Trinity Health’s network, to take steps to save the life of the mother, even if such steps may unintentionally and indirectly result in harm to her unborn baby.) 

But none of this—neither the moral belief that abortion is a morally illicit practice, nor the Directive’s reasonable provision protecting the life of the mother—proved acceptable to the ACLU.  It sued Trinity Health in October 2015 to compel it to reject its Catholic beliefs and commit abortions.

Thankfully, a federal district court eventually dismissed the case, but that hasn’t stopped the ACLU’s quest to force hospitals to accept its anti-life and anti-freedom agenda. It recently filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services attempting to force a Catholic hospital to sterilize women.

Fortunately, the Constitution protects the freedom of conscience against these attacks. This right was central to the founding of the Republic.  James Madison deemed the freedom of conscience an “unalienable right,” “the most sacred of all property.” Thomas Jefferson concurred, noting that conscience “could not [be] submit[ted]” to governmental oversight or authority.  The freedom of healthcare professionals to practice medicine according to their conscience has also been essential for millennia, as evidenced by the Hippocratic Oath.

The recent election gives us a rare opportunity to shore up this foundational freedom.

A Congress and state legislatures agreeable to preserving religious liberty can pass legislation like the Conscience Protection Act, which protects healthcare professionals who refuse to perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion. And healthcare professionals may find greater success in federal court when they are forced to violate their conscience, since the incoming administration has promised to appoint judges who value life and freedom.

This window may not be open more than a few years, so encourage your state and federal legislators to protect conscience now.

The freedom of conscience is under attack – especially for healthcare professionals. But the good news is that we have a rare opportunity to defend ourselves like never before. ADF is committed to taking advantage of it.

If you are a healthcare professional, know that you have the right to practice medicine according to your conscience. ADF has created a Legal Guide for Medical Professionals to explain what rights you have, which can be downloaded below. And know that you can contact ADF for free legal advice and possible representation if that freedom is challenged.


Download Free Guide

Kevin Theriot

Senior Counsel, Vice President of Center for Life

Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel and vice president of the Center for Life with Alliance Defending Freedom

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