Religious Refusals: A License to Discriminate


A religious refusal is when a healthcare provider (such as a doctor, nurse, CEO, receptionist, or member of a hospital board) refuses to provide or facilitate healthcare because it goes against their personal religious beliefs. This most often impacts services like abortion, miscarriage management, contraception prescriptions/procedures, HIV/AIDS treatment, and hormone therapy that women and LGBTQ+ people disproportionately require. Healthcare providers can ever refuse to provide information about healthcare conditions or referrals for appropriate care. Refusal to provide information and services translates to discrimination based on identity and orientation, and can put a patient’s life in danger. Rachel Easter from National Women’s Law Center discusses religious refusals and how they are shaping the world of healthcare.

Religious refusal laws aren’t new- in fact, they’ve been around for 45 years. These laws allow healthcare providers to deny at least some forms of care based on personal beliefs. The most famous example is the Weldon Amendment (an amendment that’s added to the annual federal appropriations bill each year). This amendment makes it possible for hospitals, insurance companies and providers to refuse to provide, pay for, or refer abortion services. 

The Trump administration has targeted access to healthcare by explicitly supporting the ability to refuse care based on religion. A recently-signed religious freedom executive order under this administration has made it easier for healthcare providers to discriminate against patients, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has therefore implemented new rules and regulations that expand religiously-rooted discrimination in the healthcare field. In fact, HHS reached out to religious hospitals around the country and asked for feedback on ways in which they could better protect healthcare workers who wish to refuse service. By the end of January, the administration proposed sweeping new rules that medical providers could object to providing ANY healthcare that violated their moral or religious beliefs.

HHS has also recently created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which is solely focused on protecting healthcare providers that want to use personal belief to deny patients care. This has overtly shifted the concern from the rights of patients to rights to deny service. 

Individuals who already face barriers to accessing healthcare are the most impacted by these refusals. 8% of LGBQ and 29% of transgender patients have reported that a doctor or healthcare provider refused to see them due to gender identity or sexual orientation in the last year. And those seeking access to abortion already must navigate a complex labyrinth in order to receive care—meaning religious refusals will make it even more difficult.  

Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Links from this episode

National Women's Law Center
National Women's Law Center Twitter
National Women's Law Center Facebook
Trump is Using Judicial Nominations to Advance His Anti-Woman, Anti-LGBTQ Agenda
Refusals to Provide Health Care Threaten the Health and Lives of Patients Nationwide

Take Action!