Idaho has become the third state to provide comprehensive protection for health care freedom of conscience. Governor Butch Otter has permitted Senate Bill 1353 to go into effect without his signature. AUL worked with Idaho Chooses Life, a state pro-life policy group, to help enact this important legislation.
The new law protects any licensed health care professional from being required to participate in “any health care service that violates his or her conscience.” “Health care service” is specifically defined to include “abortion, dispensation of an abortifacient drug, human embryonic stem cell research, treatment regimens utilizing human embryonic stem cells, human embryo cloning or end of life treatment or care.” A health care professional declining to participate in these services may not be discriminated against or held liable for exercising his or her conscience.
Louisiana and Mississippi also currently provide comprehensive protection for health care freedom of conscience. Forty-four other states provide a lesser degree of conscience protection generally, providing protection to limited categories of providers (e.g. physicians and nurses) and only for limited “services” (typically, abortion). Meanwhile, three states Alabama, New Hampshire, and Vermont provide no conscience protection for health care providers.
Freedom of conscience – a right to conscientiously object – must be a comprehensive civil right for any health care provider to decline to participate in any health care procedure or service based on religious, moral, or ethical convictions. All individuals, including health care providers, have a fundamental right to exercise their religious beliefs, personal ethics, and conscience. Unfortunately, too frequently there is inadequate protection of the civil rights of health care providers who conscientiously object to participating in certain controversial health care procedures and services.
Notably, most current state laws on conscience are largely inadequate because all they provide is a right for physicians, nurses, and private hospitals to refuse to participate in surgical abortions. Unlike laws in Idaho, Louisiana, and Mississippi, they often fail to address dispensing of contraceptives and abortifacients, decisions regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia, and involvement in biotechnologies and certain research including human cloning and destructive forms of stem cell research. Moreover, these statutes often narrowly construe the term “participate” to exclude such activities as referral to and payment for the controversial service and preparation of the patient prior to that service.
As public opinion has shifted toward a more pro-life ethic, abortion advocates and, to a lesser extent, advocates of destructive and immoral research on human life at its earliest stages have grown increasingly strident in their attempts to force pro-life health care professionals to either compromise their convictions or leave the medical profession. For example, in the name of “ensuring reproductive freedom,” abortion advocates are actively campaigning to coerce conscience. They are lobbying for legislation, pressuring medical schools and medical students, and seeking to force insurance companies to support their agenda. These efforts must be blunted by comprehensive state laws protecting conscience.
For more information on health care freedom of conscience, please see
For AUL’s comprehensive “Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act,” please see