Initiative to Stop the Use of Religion to Deny Health Care

The ACLU of Illinois believes that all people have the right to receive health care and information that is not restricted by the religious beliefs of others. We are concerned about harm to patients who are denied health care because of the religious views of their health care provider.

We are particularly concerned about the spread of health care institutions that impose religious restrictions on the care their employees can give to patients. One example grows out of Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives, which set standards that must be imposed on all physicians and other employees at Catholic health care institutions, prohibit a wide range of services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion, even when a woman’s life or health is jeopardized by a pregnancy. Indeed, they often prevent patients from receiving an appropriate referral for care and even information about their medical circumstances. Nationally, 1 in 6 hospital beds are in institutions that operate under with these directives. In Illinois, that number is closer to 1 in 3.

On a daily basis, many health care providers withhold a wide range of care from patients, including:

  • Appropriate care to women who are miscarrying or experiencing other pregnancy complications, including ectopic pregnancies;
  • Contraception, or information about contraception, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception, such as Plan B or Ella;
  • Tubal ligation procedures (getting your “tubes tied”) or vasectomies;
  • Fertility treatment;
  • Services that are sought by transgender patients, including reconstructive surgeries and hormone replacement therapy; and
  • Certain end-of-life care.

The right to practice one’s religion, or no religion, is one of the core components of our civil liberties and is a right the ACLU of Illinois protects fiercely. But this right does not permit the imposition of one person’s religious obligations on other. The ACLU works through litigation, advocacy and public education to defend religious liberty and to ensure that no one is discriminated against or denied services because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

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