ACLU Condemns Passage of Measure That Allows Religiously Affiliated Health Care Institutions to Jeopardize Women's Health

November 20, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today condemned the passage of a provision that would allow insurance companies, HMOs, and other health care institutions to refuse to provide abortion services or even give information about those services. The provision was tacked onto an omnibus spending bill and was passed without a vote of either the full Senate or the full House.

“There is no question that this measure will stand in the way of women getting the health care they need,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “The views of religiously affiliated HMOs and hospitals should not trump the needs of individual patients. Institutions should not be allowed to force their religious beliefs on other people.”

The provision would permit health care entities to ignore public health laws that require them to give pregnant women complete information about all of their options, to provide abortions to women who need them to protect their health, or to cover abortions in cases of rape or incest or when a woman’s life is endangered.

For example, the ACLU said the measure could permit family-planning clinics funded with taxpayer dollars to refuse even to provide referrals to women who ask about abortion – information now required by law.

Supporters of the bill, which was reportedly heavily lobbied for by the Catholic Conference, have repeatedly framed the legislation as a measure to protect religious freedom. Louise Melling, the Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, however, called such arguments “misleading.”

“This measure would effectively strip both states and the federal government of their ability to enforce laws that were designed to protect women’s health,” Melling said. “A pregnant woman has a right to complete and accurate information about all of her options and access to the option she chooses. Congress should not sacrifice women’s health care in its rush to satisfy the demands of the religiously affiliated health care industry.”

The measure also runs contrary to what the public wants. An ACLU poll shows that 76 percent of the public opposes allowing hospitals to refuse to provide medical services they object to on religious grounds. And 89 percent oppose allowing insurance companies to refuse to pay for medical services they object to on religious grounds.

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