Religious Restrictions:
Reproductive Services

Religious health restrictions are most frequently used to prohibit the provision of birth control counseling and prescriptions, emergency contraception for rape victims, tubal ligations, abortions, infertility services and “safer sex” counseling about how to prevent HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

Even emergency services, like the treatment of dangerous ectopic pregnancies or the offering of emergency contraception to rape victims, can be compromised. The Washington Post recently highlighted the conflict between a patient's ability to access these services and religious doctrine in the health care setting.

Here are some other real-life examples of how women have been affected by religiously-based restrictions on their reproductive health care:

  • A mother of eight children was denied a requested tubal ligation when she delivered her ninth child at a hospital in California that was acquired by a religious health system.
  • Many low-income women lost access to birth control counseling and services when a hospital in upstate New York merged with a local Catholic hospital that did not allow contraception. When one woman showed up for her regular appointment for a contraceptive shot, she was told by the nurse “We don’t do that any more.”
  • A woman with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy was sent away from the emergency department at a hospital in the Chicago suburbs after physicians followed a new religiously-based policy that required them to test for a fetal heart beat. “I can’t sleep at night worrying that one of these patients will die on the way to another hospital,” a physician told a community gathering after the incident.
  • A woman needing an emergency termination after premature rupture of the membranes at 14 weeks of pregnancy was unable to receive this treatment at her local hospital in New Hampshire because it had merged with a religiously-sponsored hospital that bans abortions. Her physician was forced to send his patient in a taxi 80 miles to another hospital in order to make sure she could receive the care she needed.
  • A woman accepting a job as an administrative assistant at a religiously-sponsored college asked about health insurance benefits, particularly coverage for contraception. “Oh, no, we don’t cover birth control because the church is against it,” she was told.

Recently both the ACLU and the National Women's Law Center have filed complaints with the Centers for Medicare and Medcaid Services saying that religiously affiliated hospitals are violating federal law by refusing to provide emergency care on religious grounds.

Meanwhile, many religious denominations fully support access to reproductive health care. Groups like Catholics for Choice and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice speak out in favor of women’s access to reproductive health care and in opposition to the imposition of religious doctrine in health care.

For more information, see our fact sheet: Religious Health Restrictions Threaten Women’s Health and Endanger Women’s Lives.