Church and Medicine: Taking Action: A Physician’s Guide

As a physician, you can help stop the alarming trend of religious interference in medicine by continuing to ensure that all your patients have access to timely and safe reproductive healthcare.

To assure the continued use of emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) to prevent unintended pregnancies:

  • Refer your patients to pharmacies known to stock and dispense ECPs.
  • Inform your patients of their rights to have their prescriptions filled without delay or harassment. The law varies from state to state, but you can check your state’s legal stance on pharmacist refusal clauses (and other laws pertaining to the right to choose) here.
  • Instruct your patients to visit the EC Hotline at not-2-late.com for a list of emergency contraception providers in their area. They can also find their nearest Planned Parenthood health center at plannedparenthood.org.

Sometimes the individual who refuses is not a pharmacist, but is a fellow physician or another healthcare provider. In order to avoid disruption to healthcare delivery, make sure you are aware of any “conscience clauses” or “refusal clauses” established by your healthcare institutions.

To ensure that your patients and their health do not fall victim to physician refusal:

  • Know your institution’s policies on individual refusal clauses. Notify the institution about any objections to providing treatment you might have in order to avoid situations in which patients are refused necessary healthcare services.
  • Be aware of any religious or moral objections your colleagues or business partners might have, and plan accordingly.
  • Notify the local chapter of your medical specialty of your commitment to ensuring that all patients have access to reproductive healthcare services.

Restrictions based on religious beliefs also occur on the institutional level, such as in hospital mergers.

To protect your institution against a restrictive hospital merger:

  • Ask questions about how your practice, your professional responsibilities and your patients will be affected by the proposed hospital merger.  Will the hospital be required to adhere to religious doctrines after the merger, and if so, what do these rules prohibit and require?
  • Organize with other physicians and speak out to make your opposition known! Compose a statement of opposition, contact the local press or join forces with a local citizen group working against the merger.
  • Redirect patients, whenever possible, to facilities that provide comprehensive healthcare when patients need services banned under the religious doctrines.
  • Push for stronger standards of care for reproductive health services to prevent religiously affiliated institutions from asserting that such services as tubal ligation or contraception counseling are unimportant and unnecessary.
  • Speak out against broad institutional “religious exemptions” legislation. Discuss how allowing businesses to refuse to provide certain medical services or insurance coverage will intrude on your ability to make the best medical decisions for your patients and will limit your patients’ access to needed medical services.
  • Contact Physicians (646-366-1890) or MergerWatch Project (212-261-4415) to obtain help and guidance.