Whose Conscience Matters?: Not Yours, According To This New Bill

On Wednesday night, the House of Representatives voted 242-181 to pass S. 304, which is misleadingly titled the “Conscience Protection Act” (CPA). 

CPA would allow “health care providers” to deny women access to reproductive health care. It would permit any “health care provider” to refuse not just to perform abortions, but to facilitate, make arrangements for, provide coverage for, or otherwise participate in abortion. Here’s the catch – “health care provider” is defined so broadly, it would include your boss.  So, under CPA, a woman’s boss could deny her coverage for abortion care if he believes abortion is a sin. And it might even include an administrative assistant who would refuse to schedule a medical appointment. And it definitely includes nonprofit organizations that contract with the government to care for unaccompanied immigrant children, some of whom have been raped, to refuse to provide them with access to abortion.

Proponents of this bill—which goes far beyond existing law—say it is necessary to protect their freedom of conscience. 

Patients should be free to exercise their consciences, too. 

Patients should be free to exercise their consciences, too. 

Freedom of conscience guarantees us the right to believe—or not—as we fit.  What it doesn’t guarantee is the right to use our beliefs to harm others.  This bill allows health care providers to use their religious beliefs to harm, discriminate against, and refuse to treat women who need medical care, and sometimes urgently so.

Indeed, many women have already suffered gravely because health care providers have put religious beliefs above their health in an emergency.  At hospitals that abide by religious directives around the country, women suffering miscarriages have been denied treatment and information about their options.  As a result, they’ve experienced life-threatening conditions such as sepsis, even resulting in stays in the ICU and acute kidney injury, and hemorrhaging requiring blood transfusions. CPA could make these dire situations more common.

And when making health care decisions about her own body, a woman deserves protection for her conscience, too.  Whether or not to undergo certain treatments is a decision for a woman and her doctor, in accordance with her faith or conscience, but certainly not her boss.

Next, CPA heads to the Senate. But first, Congress will recess for the summer until September.  While they’re gone, you can read our letter to the House urging them to oppose this bill—and we’ll be planning for fights ahead.