Category Archives: Issue

Reproductive Health

The ability of Americans to access reproductive health services is under full-scale assault from groups who seek to impose their religious beliefs on others, and change the law to prevent women from making decisions about their own bodies. From laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control; to outlandish restrictions that are closing abortion providers across the country; to Supreme Court cases claiming a religious right to deny one’s employees access to reproductive health care — the Religious Right is relentless in its attacks on access to contraception and abortion.


That safe, affordable, easily available contraception has been an unprecedented boon to society is accepted by all but those with a religious axe to grind. The idea of sex without the purpose of procreation is a threatening one to some religious groups, leading to their ongoing campaign against contraception.

  • The Contraceptive Mandate. The Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) included, for the first time, an affirmative requirement that preventive health services, including all forms of prescription contraception, be provided at no additional cost to plan holders. Conservative religious groups and companies promptly sued, sued, and sued again.
    • The Supreme Court in March heard oral arguments from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods Specialties, two for-profit corporations seeking a religious exemption from the Contraceptive Mandate. They claimed not only that the owners’ religious beliefs were offended by employees having access to contraception, but that the corporations themselves had religious beliefs that warranted protection. CFI, on behalf of a group of secular organizations, filed an amicus brief, arguing that a religious exemption that places a burden on a third party violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If the Court rules in favor of corporations having religious beliefs, there will be a flood of claims for religious exemptions: from Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking to avoid insuring blood transfusions to Christian Scientists seeking to avoid providing health insurance at all. Whatever the result of this case, CFI will continue to fight for the principle that an owner’s private religious beliefs should not trump the secular rights of the employees.
    • 39 non-profit organizations, such as the University of Notre Dame, have filed to be exempted from the Contraceptive Mandate. Religious non-profits were given an extremely generous opt-out clause by the Obama administration. If a religious organization did not wish to provide contraception coverage, it simply needed to sign a form saying so, and the coverage would be provided by the insurance company without cost to, or participation by, the religious non-profit. That such an accommodation was not sufficient indicates the true agenda of the religious groups – it is not to avoid involvement in the provision of contraception, but instead to limit employees’ access to contraception. Their unconstitutional aim is to force their religious beliefs onto the population at large. CFI is currently seeking to file an amicus brief in support of the government against this flagrant imposition of religious dogma onto private health care decisions.
  • “Conscience Clauses”
    • 95% of American women use contraception at some time in their lives. Over 50% of American women rely on prescription methods, such as the oral contraceptive pill, IUDs, and Plan B. In order to restrict access to these methods, religious groups have invented a fallacious religious freedom claim – that medical professionals should not be required to do their jobs (supply prescribed medication) when doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs. As a result, multiple states have passed so-called “conscience clauses” permitting pharmacists to refuse to fill valid prescriptions. 13 states currently allow health care providers to refuse to provide contraception services, including 6 that explicitly provide for pharmacists to refuse service (AZ, AR, GA, IL, MS, SD). CFI believes such laws infringe on a woman’s right to medical care, and will continue to oppose such laws when they are proposed, and work to repeal such laws that already exist.


Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, the United States has recognized that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion services early in her pregnancy. This decision has never been accepted by the Religious Right, and they have worked ceaselessly to get the decision overturned or rendered moot.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.



The greatest public health achievement in human history has been the advent, development, and steadfast implementation of vaccines. Using vaccines, two virulent diseases—smallpox and rinderpest—have been eradicated from the globe, and many others that have tortured and killed humans and other animals for centuries, if not millennia, have been forced to the brink. Hundreds of millions of lives have been saved, and billions of lives have been vastly improved.

The History of Vaccines and Vaccine Denial

Globally, and in the United States and United Kingdom especially, a political battle has sometimes raged between those concerned foremost with public health and those motivated by a misguided and extreme individualism. Those who resist vaccination have at times relied on strains of anti-establishment resentment towards medical authorities and the state, surging along on a torrent of ignorance about the morbid pandemics of even our most recent history. More important than resistance to vaccines based on political ideology, however, has been the resistance resulting from religion and pseudoscience. Very often the forces arrayed against vaccination have found their inspiration in religious dogma, but in recent decades a more conspiratorial, pseudoscientific paranoia has arisen alongside to inspire further vaccine refusal.

The MMR Vaccine-Autism Fraud and Fallout

Following the 1998 publication of unethical profiteer-doctor Andrew Wakefield’s dishonest and now-retracted paper in The Lancet—claiming a link between the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine and autism and intestinal disorders—the backlash against vaccines erupted anew. Aided by celebrity endorsement and promotion from the likes of Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Oprah Winfrey, and others (some of who now deny ever doing so), along with numerous acts of flagrantly irresponsible science journalism, all manner of unfounded claims and conspiracies were leveled at a number of vaccines, vaccine makers, and medical authorities. They have been particularly effective in sowing doubt about vaccine safety with emotional appeals to the safety of children, often using their own children as anecdotal examples. In spite of those claims being universally dismantled, newer vaccines, such as Gardasil, which safely protects against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), have been subject to the same anti-scientific and conspiratorial thinking ignited by Wakefield’s false claims.

Diseases Once Thought Tamed Rage Again

As with many modern social contagions, the beliefs of the formerly fringe anti-vaccination movement have been injected into the mainstream via mass media and the Internet. Subsequently, vaccination rates have dropped, and as medical science warned, where vaccination rates have dropped herd immunity has been compromised. In those voids (see this harrowing map from the Netherlands for one example), the vaccines’ target diseases have risen from the grave, especially tormenting the pregnant, the newborn, the sick, the elderly, and those unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Measles, Pertussis, and even child-paralyzing polio have seen a resurgence in places where they were once thought to be vanquished, or nearly so. California, New York, and other states have seen outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) centered on the unvaccinated in recent years. In the United States, 2011 marked a 15-year high for Measles cases. New York, Ohio, California, Indiana, and the District of Columbia have all seen outbreaks centered on the unvaccinated.

Internationally, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, and various European Union nations have all seen significant outbreaks of measles. Polio has reemerged in Pakistan, and has spread to war-torn Syria, Iraq, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon, where public health officials and their vaccines cannot easily pursue it.

Where to Fight Back

  • Despite evidence directly linking them to unnecessary illness, suffering, and death, most US states still allow vaccine exemptions for non-medical reasons. 48 states tolerate refusal to vaccinate based on religious belief, and 18 honor an objection based merely on philosophical beliefs or conscience. (Croatia, meanwhile, has mandated all children be vaccinated.)
  • The forces of anti-vaccination—both secular and religious—now target new vaccines (such as proven-safe Gardasil) while continuing to trumpet the thoroughly disproven claims that vaccines are linked to autism and other neurological conditions.
  • The forces of anti-vaccination attack the schedule by which vaccines are administered, which has also been proven safe.
  • The forces of anti-vaccination repeatedly gain the attention of lawmakers at both the state and federal level, including holding multiple briefings for Congressional members and staff.
  • Anti-vaccination activists continue to malign and misrepresent good-faith efforts by government and public health officials to mitigate the known actual, but very rare side effects of vaccines, through initiatives like the VAERS database and Vaccine Court.
  • Anti-scientific anti-vaccine paranoia is being exported from the West to the developing world, where people are in dire need of the protection only vaccines can provide.

The suffering and the dead increase by the day, yet all the while we’ve known exactly how to save them. Help us fight back wherever you can, whether in your community, your local government, or at the state, federal, or even international level (learn more here). Few public policy battles demand such a universal effort in the name of sound science, but such an effort is exactly what must be done to keep a long history of disease and suffering behind us for good.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.


End of Life

Many people who are terminally ill want the option of hastening their death, so they can spare themselves and their families needless suffering. The Center for Inquiry firmly believes competent patients have a right to determine what happens to their bodies, so CFI supports legislation that authorizes physician-assisted dying. Although three states have now passed laws permitting physician-assisted dying, adamant and well-financed opposition from religious institutions, especially the Catholic Church, has stalled efforts in other states. At the end of a person’s life, no one else’s religious views should bear on how or when they choose to go. Our lives don’t belong to any church, politician, or cultural tradition. Our lives are our own.

End of Life Issues

There is, perhaps, no more personal a set of decisions an individual can make than those surrounding the end of life. CFI believes that such difficult and personal decisions should be made by patients themselves, in conjunction with their families and medical professionals. Respect for the individual requires respecting that individual’s autonomy. As CFI CEO Ron Lindsay has said, “There can be no more intimate, self-defining decision for a person than the decision whether to continue living.” For that reason, CFI supports state laws legalizing assistance in dying, and will continue to work to see those laws spread throughout the states. The opposition comes chiefly from religious organizations seeking to impose their own faith-based beliefs about God’s will on the whole of society.

Physician Assistance in Dying

In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physicians assisting patients in choosing to die with dignity, by prescribing drugs that would lead to death. In a close election, 51.3% of the state voted to enact the Death With Dignity Act. This was met with a hailstorm of opposition from religious groups and the Bush Administration alike, with an attempt to repeal being rejected by 60% of voters in 1997, and by the Supreme Court’s ruling 6-3 in favor of the law in Gonzales v. Oregon. Between 1994 and 2013, 1,173 Oregonians received prescriptions for life ending drugs under the law, and 752 took the drugs.

As seen below, aid in dying has slowly spread to other states. Most recently, a New Mexican court found that it could not “envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” CFI intends to file an amicus brief in the inevitable appeal of this decision; well-funded and vocal opponents of this right have included the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Medical and Dental Society, and the multiple Right to Life groups.


Ballot Initiative

Since 1994, doctors may prescribe lethal drugs in controlled situations.


Ballot Initiative

Since 2008, doctors may prescribe lethal drugs in controlled situations.



Since May 2013, doctors may prescribe lethal drugs in controlled situations.


Court Decision

In December 2009, a Montana court ruled that physicians prescribing lethal drugs for self-administration will not face legal punishment. The Montana Supreme Court ruled the same month that physician aid in dying was not against public policy in Montana.

New Mexico

Court Decision

In January 2014, a New Mexico Court found a right to assistance in dying. Doctors will not face prosecution for prescribing lethal drugs in controlled situations.


Ballot Initiative

In 2005, a ballot initiative to permit physician aid in dying was defeated.


Ballot Initiative

In 1998, a ballot initiative to permit physician aid in dying was defeated.



In 2013, the Maine legislature refused to decriminalize physician aid in dying by a vote of 94-43

Withdrawal of Life Support

The same groups that seek to prevent individuals from receiving assistance in dying from physicians often also seek to prevent individuals from controlling when they can refuse to be kept alive by artificial methods, whether through ventilators or by being fed and given water while in a vegetative state. As part of our commitment to respect for individuals, CFI believes that the wishes of a patient are paramount. Any prior instructions as to care should be respected, and, in absence of such instructions, it should be the next of kin of the patient, not Church groups and politicians who determine when care should be ended.

The level of interference in such cases is shocking. No one will forget the spectacle of Terry Schiavo, kept artificially alive while in a persistent vegetative state despite court rulings that her wishes were to have her feeding tube removed in such a situation, while Operation Rescue founder and anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry sought to prevent the removal of the tube, and Senator Bill Frist claimed to be able to diagnose Ms. Schiavo via videotape despite all genuine medical opinion contradicting him. More recently Marlise Munoz was kept breathing by machines in Texas for two months against the wishes she had expressed to her husband, because she was pregnant when she fell into a coma. The lessons of such situations are clear. CFI recommends individuals planning for such eventualities through Advance Health Care Directives, or “Living Wills.” These are recognized in 48 states, and CFI will fight for the rights of the patient where groups seek to deny such an expression of a patient’s autonomy.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.


Faith Healing

There is perhaps no more dire misuse of religious freedom as a justification in health care issues/debates than in cases of so-called “faith healing,” where genuine medical care is avoided or refused outright, and prayer or other practices based on the supernatural take their place, sometimes entirely.

Though informed and consenting adults should be free to exercise their First Amendment rights to refuse scientifically proven medical treatment in the name of their religious beliefs, they should not be able to deny medical care to their children, who have no choice in the matter, and are clearly not capable of making these enormous medical and theological decisions on their own. No child should suffer or die for the sake of their parents’ religious dogma – yet all too often they do.

Between 1975 to 1995, the most comprehensive study of the issue found at least 172 children died due to faith-based medical neglect. That number has only increased since.

Notable Recent Cases

  • In 2013, Oregon 12-year-old Syble Rossiter died from untreated diabetes. Her family belongs to the Church of the Firstborn, whose prohibition against medical treatment has been linked to over 80 child deaths since 1976.
  • For failing to say “Amen” during meals, members of a Baltimore sect starved 16-month old Ria Ramkissoon in 2007, choosing instead to pray over the boy as his health deteriorated, continuing even after his death.
  • In 2008, Madeline Kara Neumann died of undiagnosed diabetes. Her parents were convicted of 2nd-degree reckless homicide, a conviction upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013.
  • In 2008, the parents of 15-month old Ava Worthington—members of the Followers of Christ—were criminally convicted after she died of untreated pneumonia.
  • In 2011 the parents of newborn Alayna Wyland—also of the Followers of Christ—were charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment for refusing to provide medical care for their daughter, who suffered from a facial tumor that nearly blinded her.
  • A Philadelphia couple was charged with 3rd degree murder for the deaths of two children—in 2009 and 2014—from untreated pneumonia. Their father was quoted:
    “We believe in divine healing, the Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power.”

Religious Exemptions From Laws Protecting Children

Following a now-repealed Nixon-era law—advocated for by the Christian Science Church—requiring that states create faith-healing exemptions in order to receive certain federal funding, a diverse swarm of laws were passed which, to varying degrees, excuse the withholding of health care from children in the name of the parents’ religious beliefs. Today most of these laws persist, and in many states the neglectful parents of suffering or dead children may escape with no charges at all. Some states even allow a religious defense for crimes against children such as manslaughter, neglect resulting in death, criminal mistreatment, and murder.

In the state of Washington, lawmakers are pushing to revoke a decades-old exemption that allowed Christian Scientists—and only Christian Scientists—to use religion as a defense for withholding medical care from children. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for the elimination of all such exemptions.

In other states, however—including Idaho, where Followers of Christ has been linked to the deaths of over 100 children—conservative legislators have fought to stop proposed laws which would attempt to protect sick children from faith-healing parents.

In defense of faith-healing exemptions, Idaho Rep. Christy Perry stated:

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die. This is about where they go for eternity.”

Faith Healing and The Affordable Care Act

Lobbying groups from various religious sects are still working to introduce and expand such protections, including at the federal level. With support from Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Il.) and William Keating (D-Ma.), Christian Scientists and others have been working to gain special treatment under the Affordable Care Act.

The Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act (H.R.1814) would allow special exemptions for religious believers who wish to refuse to purchase mandated medical coverage for themselves and their children, and instead rely on faith-based rituals. The EACH Act has already passed the House of Representatives—we must not allow it to be approved by the Senate.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.


Addiction Recovery

CFI believes that an individual suffering from addiction should be able to select the method of recovery that best suits him or her, and that a range of options and information should be made available to those who seek it. Unfortunately, both voluntary and court-ordered recovery have become dominated by religiously infused methods, and addicts are often given little to no choice but to participate in these sectarian programs, regardless of their individual beliefs.

The Religious Element of Twelve Step Programs

By far the best known “self help” method of recovery from addiction is the Twelve Step program as popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Twelve Step groups are local and largely self-governing, and the type of religion and spiritualism promoted varies group to group. However, Twelve Step programs are, at their very core, supernaturally based. The second step requires belief in a “higher power,” and other steps make clear the higher power is considered integral to recovery. The exact effectiveness of such programs is extremely difficult to measure. Everyone is aware of anecdotal evidence of success stories through such programs; however studies show mixed results.

CFI believes that secular, non-spiritual paths to recovery should also be promoted. For example, CFI’s sister organization, the Council for Secular Humanism, has supported and offered Secular Organizations for Sobriety, a network of autonomous, non-professional groups that are dedicated to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety without the requirement of belief in a higher power. The program is based on the scientific study of addiction, and the importance of achieving sobriety for each individual, by focusing solely on the character and actions of that individual, not a supernatural being.

Legal Involvement in Addiction Recovery

In many states, courts have turned to offering convicted individuals the opportunity to participate in addiction recovery programs as opposed to the failed policy of jailing non-violent addicts. While CFI welcomes this emphasis on recovery over punishment, in many areas individuals are required to participate in specific programs—programs which are almost always based on the spiritual Twelve Step model. The state thereby presents people with a dubious choice – participate in a religious, spiritual program that may espouse beliefs they do not share, or be sentenced to jail. CFI strongly believes this violates the First Amendment, and will continue to challenge these programs, seeking to ensure that individuals are presented with alternatives rather than being coerced into religion.

In Florida, the Council for Secular Humanism has challenged a state policy of funding sectarian providers of housing and recovery services to released prisoners. In Council for Secular Humanism v. Crews, we argue that using taxpayer money to house released prisoners in facilities provided by sectarian organizations (Lamb of God Recovery Centers and Prisoners of Christ Ministries), and where the recovery program itself is also a specifically Christian-based one, violates the Florida Constitution, which states that “[n]o revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” After many years of litigation, the case has progressed to the discovery stage. We will shortly be filing a motion for summary judgment in this case. Please check back for updates.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.


Alternative Medicine

So-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM or alt-med) is a nebulous collection of treatments that fall outside the realm of medicines and therapies scientifically proven to work. Though a $35 billion-a-year industry in the United States, complementary and alternative medicine consists of methods and substances that are at worst disproven, and at best unproven but unlikely to work. Efficacy and safety is the standard for medical science, and if “complementary” and “alternative” medical treatments were proven to work, and work safely, they would simply be called medicine.

Some examples of alternative medicinal treatments include: Homeopathy, acupuncture (see our report), acupressure, chiropractic, naturopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, herbal supplements/herbal medicine, Reiki, qigong, therapeutic touch, electromagnetic therapy, colonic irrigation, moxibustion, cranial sacral therapy, dietary supplements, megavitamins, water-birthing, prayer, and certain forms of meditation, among many others.

Despite extensive serious concerns about training and ability all 50 states, to varying degrees, license CAM/Alt-med advocates to practice in their states—including the license to write prescriptions. Many leave certification up to private professional organizations run by CAM/alt-med practitioners themselves, with no genuine scientific oversight. The situation is only getting worse.

All the while, CAM/alt-med practitioners such as Staniszlaw Burzinski continue to peddle false and harmful treatments to the sick, dying, and desperate. Practitioners like these must be stopped.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Since 1992, taxpayer money has funded the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, wielding a yearly budget approaching $130 million. Created with the vocal support of lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), one purpose of the NCCAM was to determine whether any evidence exists to support the claims made for various alternative treatments. 20 years and nearly $2 billion later no evidence has been found to support the alternative medical treatments the NCCAM has studied. As a 2011 report by the Center for Inquiry made clear, even if the NCCAM may have served some purpose initially, there is no longer any reason for the NCCAM to exist. It now represents a massive misuse of scarce research dollars.

Some NCCAM-funded studies include:

  • Whether coffee enemas (part of the infamous “Gonzalez protocol”) treat pancreatic cancer ($406,000)
  • Whether distant prayer can cure AIDS ($666,000)
  • Whether inhaling lemon and lavender scents helps wounds heal ($374,000)
  • Whether massage helps treat advanced pancreatic cancer ($1,250,000)
  • Energy healing ($1,180,000+)

A full list of NCCAM clinical trials can be found here.

In Government

Alt-med lobbying groups such as the American Chiropractic Association, Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium, and others have worked ceaselessly with their allies (such as Sen. Harkin) to win legislation friendly to the alternative medicine industry’s interests, and direct tax dollars (through NCCAM grants, Medicaid, Medicare, and the VA Health system) toward unproven and disproven alternative medical treatments.

During the debate and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CAM lobbyists succeeded at inserting language (Section 2706) which requires CAM providers be covered by mandated health insurance plans, even though their treatments are not scientific, effective, and sometimes outright unsafe. Although there are questions about implementation, Section 2706 subverts the entire purpose of the ACA and should be repealed immediately.

In The Hospital

Under the guise of “integrative medicine,” alternative medicine has made inroads at hospitals, clinics, and even medical schools nationwide, including some of the most reputable. These therapies piggy-back on actual medicine, hiding their failure behind scientifically-proven medical treatments. As elsewhere, even in a hospital setting alternative medicine wastes time, money, and can lead to increased suffering and trauma for patients.

In The Drugstore

Homeopathic, herbal, and other alternative medicines litter retailers nationwide, often found on shelves directly alongside or interspersed with actual medicine. This presents a confusing situation for sick and desperate customers, some of whom may not be able to afford real medicine or medical treatment. Sometimes that confusion can be exceptionally dangerous, as with homeopathic “remedies” for life-threatening conditions such as asthma. For this reason CFI has petitioned the FDA to start regulating homeopathic products as they do all food and drugs.

Even away from the medicine aisle, one can find racks upon racks of herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and various vitamin concoctions.

In Nature

The demand for alternative medicines, and the production of them, has led to the senseless slaughter of animals worldwide, including some of the world’s most endangered, whose body parts serve as ingredients. Elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, various shark species, and others have seen their populations decimated, in part due to poaching to feed the international demand for unproven and disproven remedies.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.


Hospital Ownership

We come to our nation’s hospitals when we’re at our most vulnerable, in our times of greatest need. But many of our hospitals are owned by churches, which limit medical care based on religious doctrines. This keeps patients from the care they need, stops doctors from doing their jobs, and even threatens – and sometimes takes – patients’ lives. We come to hospitals to save our lives, not our souls.

Who Owns Your Hospitals?

While most Americans receive emergency care at public or otherwise secular hospitals, a great many receive care at hospitals run by religious groups. In particular, Catholic hospitals provide care for at least 1 in 6 patients in the United States and are, collectively, the largest not-for-profit health care provider in the country.

Over the past several years, a wave of proposed and completed mergers between secular and Roman Catholic hospitals has increased the number of Americans who will have to rely on a religious hospital for their health care. Several states have already seen mergers, including Illinois, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. More recently, mergers have been proposed in Washington and Ohio (the latter of which is in the process of an anti-trust lawsuit).

Since these hospitals are barred by church doctrine from performing many procedures, this means putting at risk individuals’ health, as well of the health of society generally.

The Consequence of Religious Control of Hospitals

Catholic health care providers are bound by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a document issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that governs how their health care providers must handle a variety of issues. As this document reads: “The professional-patient relationship is never separated, then, from the Catholic identity of the health care institution.”

This poses a severe challenge to many people seeking to exercise their legal rights to health care, especially reproductive and end-of-life care (physician-assisted suicide is legal in Washington state). Catholic hospitals regularly refuse to perform abortions necessary to prevent serious complications or save a pregnant woman’s life, and refuse to respect the wishes of patients regarding their wishes on how to die.

It also poses a challenge to employees who might feel compelled to provide emergency care barred by the Directives, at risk of losing their jobs. For instance, in 2011 a Catholic nun in Arizona was excommunicated following her decision to approve an emergency abortion necessary to save the life of the mother, who was 11 weeks pregnant at the time.

Yet Catholic hospitals do not simply refrain from offering certain kinds of care – they also often refuse to provide accurate guidance on where patients can receive the care they need. Under the Directives, doctors are barred from telling a patient with a nonviable pregnancy that there are other options available elsewhere. This denial of both care and information is particularly problematic in areas where other hospitals are not located nearby.

Lastly, Catholic hospitals present problems for LGBT patients, who might be denied hormone therapy, or the basic right of married same-sex partners to be treated as next of kin in making health care decisions.

Ensuring All Health Services Are Provided

As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westerneat wrote, “To get public funding, religious hospitals ought to be urged to abide by the public’s health-care principles as much as possible. Not us by theirs. We’d never let the schools be ruled by a church, no matter how well-meaning. With our health care we’re halfway there.”

It is not inherently problematic for a hospital to be affiliated in some way with a religious group. Not all religious groups demand hospitals deny certain services based on religious dogma; some actually ensure their patients can access a full range of quality health care services.

However, religious control of hospitals and their guidelines regarding which health care to provide, and how to provide it, often effectively strips people of their rights to control their bodies – whether it relates to reproductive care, end of life issues, or LGBT concerns. Neither politicians nor churches should dictate individuals’ decisions over their health care. Health care should remain safe and secular.


This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.