Abortion Activist: Religious Groups Have No Conscience Rights

Opinion   |   William Saunders and Evangeline Jones   |   May 4, 2012   |   6:24PM   |   Washington, DC

Some advocates of the HHS so-called “preventive services” mandate assert, “conscience rights belong to individuals, not institutions.” The president of NOW has spoken more colorfully: “[C]laims that institutions can have consciences–that’s poppycock.”

It doesn’t take much common sense or more than a glance at existing laws to see that this view is, in a word, malarkey.

For example, governmental bodies grant funds for natural disasters, schools raise money for community projects, corporations donate to cancer research—all of these actions are based upon conscience (upon a moral sense of what is right and what is not). Similarly, decisions to cut off assistance to governments that engage in brutalities against their citizens are exercises of conscience.

Moreover, the consciences of institutions are specifically protected by various federal and state laws.

Examples include:

  • The federal law known as the Church Amendment guarantees that hospitals that object to abortion and sterilization due to moral or religious convictions will not jeopardize their eligibility for federal funds because of their conscience objections.[1]
  • A federal statute prohibits the Legal Services Corporation from providing legal assistance to compel “any individual or institution” to provide abortion procedures “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such individual or institution….[2]
  •  The U. S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 states: “An organization, including a faith-based organization, that is otherwise eligible to receive assistance under section 104A of the Foreign Assistance Act…. shall not be required, as a condition of receiving such assistance… (B) to endorse, utilize, make a referral to, become integrated with, or otherwise participate in any program or activity to which the organization has a religious or moral objection.”[3]
  • The Hyde-Weldon Amendment, attached annually since 2004 to federal funding authorizations, states that no funding shall be denied to “any institutional or individual health care entity…on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”[4]
  •  A number of state laws protect “institutional” conscience. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 44 states allow health care institutions to refuse to provide abortion services, 9 states allow health care institutions to refuse to provide services related to contraception, and 16 states allow health care institutions to refuse to provide sterilization services.[5]

To assert that an institution does not have a “conscience” is to play metaphysical games. While such speculation is fine for a class in philosophy, our civic and legal traditions clearly answer to the contrary. Freedom of conscience, including the right to be free from coercion, extends to all.

1 42 U.S.C. §300a-7(b)(2).

2 42 U.S.C. §2996f(b).

3 22 U.S.C. §7631 (d)(1)(B).

4 Appropriations Act, 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-74, Sec. 507 (d)(1).

5 Guttmacher Institute, “Refusing to Provide Health Services”, State Policies in Brief, as of May 1, 2012, https://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_RPHS.pdf