Should healthcare providers and institutions be allowed to deny services to patients based upon the provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs”? I don’t think so. Discrimination is not OK.
This is the fourth year in a row that I have proposed a Patient’s Right to Know bill which requires healthcare providers and institutions to disclose upfront if they have any religious restrictions that would preclude them from providing all legal drugs and services within their scope of practice.
This is the first year that my bill made a splash in the news. Tucson residents may have seen the story about by bill HB2068 in the New Year’s Eve edition of the Arizona Daily Star, but it was also on the State of Reform website, in the Yellow Sheet (inserted below), and on KFYI radio. Providing or not providing services due to one’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” has been a hot topic since the infamous Hobby Lobby case in 2014.
HB2068’s popularity is likely due to the controversial nature of religious liberty legislation and to recent, high-profile court cases that harken back to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was proposed by Senator Ted Kennedy and then Congressman Chuck Schumer and signed into law by President Bill Clinton and in 1993. Although RFRA was declared unconstitutional, 21 states including Arizona have state RFRA laws, and the US Congress has passed 25 “conscience” bills related to healthcare.
When I was interviewed by one of the reporters he asked, “This is just about choice, right?” When I initially proposed this bill in 2017, it was about reproductive choice for me, but in 2019, when he asked me that question, I said, “No.” There are obviously other people who are being discriminated against for purportedly religious reasons.
Thanks to religious freedom court cases and news stories, we have learned that cake bakers and graphic designers can deny services to gay couples because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs” against homosexuality. We have heard that humanitarian aid workers like No More Deaths volunteer Dr. Scott Warren can provide services to migrants (like food, water and shelter) because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” We also have learned that women are being denied birth control pills or the morning after pill because pharmacists don’t believe in birth control or medical abortion due to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This article in the Arizona Republic focuses on a Fountain Hills pharmacist who refused to fill a valid prescription for a trans woman. Although this pharmacist was fired, the story reveals that the anti-LGBTQ sentiment– disguised as religion– is creeping into the healthcare arena.
The Growth of Catholic-Owned Hospitals
MORE US PATIENTS WILL BE SEEKING CARE IN HEALTH FACILITIES THAT FOLLOW RELIGIOUS RULES RATHER THAN EVIDENCE-BASED GUIDELINES FOR CARE.
All of this is very scary — given the dramatic growth of Catholic-owned or affiliated hospitals in the US.
Excerpted from Patients don’t care about provider religious ties, expect all needed care by Reuters…
“’The number of Catholic-owned or affiliated healthcare facilities grew by 22% between 2001 and 2016,’ Guiahi said. ‘And this contrasts with the overall number of acute-care hospitals, which decreased by 6% and the number of other nonprofit religious hospitals decreased by 38%. What this means is that increasingly more U.S patients will be seeking care in health facilities that may follow religious rules rather than evidence-based guidelines for care.’
“‘Many patients may not realize that the religious affiliation of a healthcare system might impact the care they get,’ Guiahi said.
“‘For example, ‘prior research has shown that the vast majority of religious-affiliated institutions offer birth control appointments, but in the office, the patient might find some of the most effective birth control methods are not offered,’ she said. Healthcare providers at these institutions are, according to the religious guidelines, ‘only permitted to offer counseling on natural family planning to heterosexual families.’” [If you want the full range of reproductive health choices, go elsewhere.]
ALTHOUGH THEY ADVERTISE BIRTH CONTROL APPOINTMENTS, RELIGIOUS HEALTHCARE INSTITUTIONS OFTEN OFFER ONLY COUNSELING ON NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING TO HETEROSEXUAL FAMILIES.
The Federal Government’s Role in Restricting Care
And the federal government is on board with discrimination based upon religious beliefs. Did you know that President Trump has been pushing for religious freedom bills and established the Office of Conscience and Religious Freedom in the Office of Civil Rights? Did you know that in 2019 the US Department of Health and Human Services adopted new rules to facilitate discrimination based upon religious beliefs?
Here is background on proposed US Health and Human Services Department policy changes, excerpted from U.S. health agency finalizes conscience and religious freedom rule by Reuters…
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday released a final rule allowing doctors, nurses and other health workers to opt out of procedures such as abortions and sterilizations which violate their personal or religious beliefs.
“The rule, proposed more than a year ago, reinforces a set of 25 laws passed by Congress that protect “conscience rights” in healthcare, HHS said. Those laws allow health providers and entities to opt out of providing, participating in, paying for or referring for healthcare services that they have personal or religious objections to, HHS said.
“The rule will be effective 60 days from its final publication and enforced by the agency’s Office of Civil Rights.
“’Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,’ Roger Severino, director of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights, said in a statement.
“’This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the healthcare field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,’ he said.
“Physicians, medical groups and others have warned the rule would erode protections for vulnerable patients in healthcare, including gay and transgender individuals.
“’This administration shows itself to be determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law,’ Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
“’This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives,’ Melling said.’
‘THIS RULE THREATENS TO PREVENT PEOPLE FROM ACCESSING CRITICAL MEDICAL CARE AND MAY ENDANGER PEOPLE’S LIVES.’
We Have a Right to Know
When I first proposed this bill back in 2017, I thought it was important for patients to know the religious restrictions of medical providers and institutions. Four Legislative sessions later in 2020, I think Patients Right to Know legislation on “religious liberty” is essential. Discrimination is not OK.
As consumers and patients, we have a right to know which providers will offer us all of the legal drugs and treatment options available to us– and which won’t. If a provider has self-imposed limitations on the care, they should tell potential patients upfront.
Religious Liberty & Related Discrimination in the News
Here are several recent articles on religious liberty laws and discrimination based upon religion. They underscore the need for Patient’s Right to Know legislation regarding “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Patients don’t care about provider religious ties, expect all needed care This December 27, 2019 article reveals that patients expect impartial treatment from heatlhcare providers and institutions.