Health Care Freedom of Conscience (HB 1787, 2018)

Cornerstone Action supports HB 1787-FN, relative to health care freedom of conscience. Health care professionals should not be expected to leave their religious, moral, and ethical beliefs at the door when they come to work.

While HB 1787 specified conscience protection for practitioners relative to only a few procedures, we support the bill as an important step in conscience protections. We support the inclusion of individuals as well as institutions in the bill’s protections.

Conscience rights are recognized in the New Hampshire Constitution’s Bill of Rights, article 4. That’s recognized, not granted. Conscience rights are threatened when they are pitted against rights created by law and granted by the state, such as the right to abortion. HB 1787 assures health care providers that in such a case, they will not lose their jobs for refusing to participate in abortions.

Don’t wait for a health care professional to be fired before you adopt this bill. This is a time to be pro-active.

This bill comes before you as the World Medical Association (WMA) has announced a proposed policy change that would abandon the WMA’s earlier respect for physicians’ conscience rights, replacing it with a policy that would demand physicians either perform or refer for abortions. Fortunately, physicians are pushing back.

  • The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a letter on February 6 of this year to the American Medical Association, urging the AMA to oppose the WMA’s policy change: “[it] must be completely rejected as incompatible with good medical practice and as promoting  a gross violation of the conscience of physicians who choose not to participate in the killing of their patients.” In the same better, AAPLOG says “Elective abortion is not healthcare. Elevating a mother’s request for elective abortion to a basic human right is fallacious, and ignores the other two persons involved in the procedure. The proposed revision…ignor[es] the ‘rights of the physician’ and jeopardiz[es] the ‘protection of the patient’ – the unborn child.” [ ]
  • The Catholic Medical Association released a statement last week on the WMA’s proposed policy change, calling it “subversive of physician freedom of conscience concerning abortion in the short term, and euthanasia and assisted suicide in the long term.” []

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a nonprofit research and education agency focused on the life issues, released a report in 2016 entitled “Unconscionable: Threats to religious Freedom and Rights of Conscience in the Abortion Debate.” Among the people whose cases are described in the report is a group of Washington state pharmacists who unsuccessfully fought a state regulation requiring that they dispense abortion-inducing drugs; Illinois pharmacists who had to wage a similar fight but with a different result; a nurse in New York whose employer knew of her religious objections to abortion but ordered her to participate nonetheless or else be fired; and two students applying to a nurse-residency program at Vanderbilt University who fought a requirement that program applicants agree to participate in abortions.

A federal provision known as Hyde/Weldon (dating back to 2004) provides inadequate conscience protections to health care providers. The provision has to be added to the federal Labor/Health and Human Services budget every cycle; it is not codified in statute. It also has an inadequate enforcement mechanism (filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights within HHS) that is subject to the policy priorities of whomever is in the White House at the time a complaint is filed. Conscience deserves constitutional and statutory protection, not merely an administrative nod.

We believe that HB 1787 would not pose a threat to women’s health or the provision of emergency care, given the experience with Hyde/Weldon since 2004. See Conscience Protection on Abortion: No Threat to Life from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities (February 2018). Here’s an excerpt:

…no one has documented a case in which any of these [conscience] laws led anyone to “turn away” a pregnant woman, or prevented a woman from obtaining emergency treatment needed to save her life. Nothing in these [conscience] laws authorizes anyone to “turn away a pregnant woman” needing treatment. Since 1986, federal law has forbidden emergency rooms to turn away patients in medical emergencies, and requires them to provide treatment to stabilize the medical condition of such patients – including pregnant women. But this law…does not require that abortion be the stabilizing treatment in any case. [emphasis in original]

We urge you to vote “Ought to Pass on HB 1787, respecting conscience rights for health care providers. Doing so is in the best interests of providers and patients alike.

Testimony delivered by Shannon McGinley, executive director.