Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 7, 2020

Health care conscience laws are intended to protect the rights of individuals and institutions whose conscientious or religious beliefs impact the ways in which they provide health care services. Nearly every state has adopted one or more health care conscience laws that apply in the context of reproductive health services. The most common types of conscience laws are those that grant health care providers the right to refuse to participate in abortion.

Most conscience laws explicitly protect health care providers and others from legal action taken by injured patients (civil liability), as well as criminal prosecution, discipline by state licensing boards or other administrative agencies, adverse action by employers, or discrimination in educational opportunities, among other negative consequences that might result from their action or inaction with respect to a medical procedure with which they disagree. These procedural protections may be limited in situations where a patient’s health or safety is at risk.

This legal map identifies the procedural protections established by laws and regulations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that protect the conscience rights of health care providers in the context of reproductive health care services, with a particular emphasis on immunity from civil liability and limitations on provider rights in cases where patients are likely to be harmed. It captures the relevant features of laws in effect as of December 2019.