Legal Tradition On Rights Of Conscience

“The basic principle that no one ought to be forced to act in violation of his or her conscience is recognized and protected by a vast body of laws. In federal law, this principle is recognized in a number of provisions that protect conscientious objection to a range of procedures, including abortion,1 sterilization,2 contraception3 and executions.4 “This principle is also recognized in the vast majority of states. After the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, prompting Congress to pass its first legislation protecting the right to refuse to provide abortions, many states passed similar laws. Today Kansas and almost all other states provide some protection for the right of conscientious objection to involvement in abortion. Some states also protect providers who object to other kinds of procedures, including euthanasia, sterilization, artificial insemination, abortifacient drugs and contraception. The State of Illinois has adopted a comprehensive right of conscience law, under which the protection of physicians and other health care personnel extends to any procedure “which is contrary to the conscience of such physician or health care personnel.” The State of Washington provides comprehensive conscience protection to individual health care providers and to religiously affiliated health care plans and facilities. Inadequacies in Current Legal Protection “While the principle of protection for conscience rights is widely acknowledged, its implementation has been far from perfect, creating a need for more comprehensive and forward-looking legislation. “Most federal conscience protections apply only to specific federal programs or are tied to the receipt of federal funds.5 Their scope is limited by this fact, and by the narrow range of procedures covered....