Religious Freedom for Healthcare Practitioners

March 2, 2018

Explore the Series

Under the new administration and its interpretation of protections for religious freedom, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now working to protect health practitioners who decline patients or refrain from conducting certain procedures based on their moral or religious convictions. Roger Severino, the official behind the new Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, has cited religious freedom as a “primary freedom, a civil right that deserves enforcement and respect.” Under this interpretation, health practitioners are able to refuse to perform procedures like abortions or vasectomies, and companies are allowed to refuse to cover contraceptives and/or sterilizations in their health insurance plans. Religious freedom claims in the field of healthcare have come up frequently in the past, especially with regard to morally and emotionally charged issues such as abortion. For example, in January 2018 a nurse in Illinois complained to the HHS about abortion mandates that were in conflict with her religious beliefs and therefore violated her constitutional right to religious freedom.

What does this new HHS division mean for the status of religious freedom in the provision of medical services? What is the proper balance between a healthcare practitioner’s constitutional right to religious freedom and the same practitioner’s professional responsibilities? How can political or moral views be properly distinguished from religious views when balancing religious freedom and the public need for health services? How should the law treat competing rights claims made by healthcare practitioners and potential patients seeking healthcare services?

Opens in a new window