Sanctity of Life

Here’s Why We Must Protect Freedom of Conscience in Healthcare

We’re all better off when we respect the freedom of conscience. Yet, in healthcare, it seems to be increasingly under attack.

At Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), we’ve defended a number of healthcare professionals who simply wish to practice medicine according to their moral and ethical beliefs – and who also wish to uphold their oath to do no harm. These include:

  • Nurses forced to perform abortions even when it violates their deepest convictions.
  • Pharmacists forced to stock and dispense drugs that end the lives of unborn babies.
  • Catholic hospitals that were sued because they do not perform abortions or sex-reassignment surgeries due to their beliefs.
  • Doctors forced to counsel their six-month terminal patients that physician-assisted suicide is an option (or refer them to someone for that counseling).

In all of these situations, healthcare professionals are being pressured to abandon their beliefs in order to practice medicine. That is unacceptable, particularly given that federal and state laws protect the freedom of conscience in healthcare. Not to mention that the medical profession, historically, seeks to do no harm.

“Unfortunately, these persistent and often successful attacks on conscience… continue despite the myriad state and federal protections which… exist for the very purpose of preventing them,” write ADF attorneys Kevin Theriot and Ken Connelly in the Arizona State Law Journal. “But law, history, and the nature of medicine itself all support a robust right to conscience.”

Some claim that allowing for freedom of conscience in healthcare will result in poorer care for patients. But the opposite is actually true. Allowing healthcare professionals to practice medicine according to their convictions gives patients the option to see a healthcare professional that shares their values if they so choose.

For example, if all healthcare professionals are required to perform abortions, a pregnant patient looking for a pro-life doctor will not be able to find one. But if healthcare professionals are allowed to practice according to their conscience, pro-life patients will be able to find doctors who work to preserve the sanctity of life.

That’s a win for us all. As Theriot and Connelly write, “In fact, no matter what one’s ideological predilections, protecting the conscience of medical professionals is a good idea—good for patients, good for individual practitioners and medical institutions, and good for society as a whole.”


To learn more about the threats to freedom of conscience in healthcare as well as some recommendations for protecting it, read the entire article in the Arizona State Law Journal.

Read the Article

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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