Conscience Clause Debate and the LGBT Community
February 9, 2012 by Allison Herwitt, Vice President for Government Affairs
HRC is closely watching the ongoing debate over the birth control coverage benefit, which will ensure all women with health insurance have access to contraceptives with no co-pay, regardless of their employer. Despite a strong religious exemption allowing churches and houses of worship to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees, conservative religious leaders are pushing for the White House to broaden this carve out to include religiously-affiliated hospitals, universities, and other organizations. Such a broad exemption would deny access to this important benefit to millions of women of all faiths. And it would be a dangerous step toward the sort of board “conscience” or “religious refusal” clause that has, time and again, been used to discriminate against LGBT Americans.
We respect the right of religious groups to maintain their beliefs and the important role religious organizations play in providing important social services. This law strikes a respectful balance between religious interests and the health needs of women. But broadening its exemption could leads us down a harmful path. Will religious-affiliated hospitals next be able to refuse to abide by new federal regulations protecting the hospital visitation rights of LGBT people and their families, simply because their faith tradition or the individual conscience of a doctor or nurse disapproves of same-sex relationships? What of other health and social services often involving religiously-affiliated providers, like assisted reproductive technologies, adoption and foster care, emergency shelters, or substance abuse treatment? Already, we have seen Congress attempt to attack open military service by gays and lesbians by permitting discrimination against those service members based on the religious or moral objections of chaplains or other personnel.
As we continue to work for LGBT equality in healthcare and elsewhere, expanded religious refusal policies threaten the goal of ensuring that no one is left with an unmet medical need because of a provider’s private religious beliefs. Left unchecked, these discriminatory exemptions could effect LGBT Americans in many facets of life -- from employment, to healthcare, to education. To learn more and take action, check out Planned Parenthood’s site here.