Unclear Conscience

How Catholic Hospitals and Doctors are Claiming Conscientious Objections to Deny Healthcare to Transgender Patients

For years, federal and state conscience clauses have given healthcare providers and doctors blanket protections for refusing to treat patients for reproductive health by citing religion. With some states beginning to broaden the scope of conscience clauses to make them applicable to transgender patients, religious providers and doctors are now given the opportunity to cite religion so that they may be excused from treating transgender patients. Many of these patients are now at risk and unable to access healthcare, especially in parts of rural America as mergers with Catholic hospitals continue to rise. These broad conscience clauses put transgender patients at risk by offering an opportunity for doctors and providers to serve their own self-interests and be excused from standards of care set forth by nationally established medical associations, resulting in a lower standard of care for transgender patients.

This Note explores the purpose and development of conscience clauses, their application in the context of reproductive health, the current harms that transgender patients face when refused healthcare (especially in rural America), and the Supreme Court’s view on public accommodations law that may guide conscience clauses and transgender healthcare. This Note recommends statutory reform to provide information regarding to whom conscience clauses apply, as well as practical healthcare reform that encourages the system to better educate doctors on transgender health issues in order to reduce the stigma and discrimination transgender patients experience when they visit a healthcare provider.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.