Misguided Hospital Policy Illustrates the Potential Dangers of State RFRA Bill

December 17, 2014

As the year comes to a close, the Michigan Legislature seems to have dutifully set itself to the task of passing as many harmful bills as possible.

The recent push includes championing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), an onerous and deeply flawed bill that, if passed, could allow individuals to ignore laws that they claim impose a “substantial burden” on their religious beliefs—a list that potentially includes non-discrimination laws, child abuse laws and domestic violence laws.

Adopting this bill could, quite simply, permit people to use religion as a loophole to harm others. Consider, for instance, medical care.

In recent months, the ACLU of Michigan has intervened on behalf of women whose right to adequate medical care has been threatened by the same faulty logic undergirding the proposed state RFRA. In one instance, a Catholic hospital refused to treat an imminent miscarriage — despite having the capacity and medical obligation to do so — resulting in the entirely preventable infection and suffering for the patient.

The reason? The procedure conflicted with Catholic doctrine.

As Brooke Tucker, an ACLU of Michigan staff attorney who is challenging faith-based hospital policies that put women patients at risk, explained: “Medical science, not religious doctrine, should guide the care that patients at any hospital receive. The state has an obligation to ensure that all hospitals that it licenses, regardless of their religious affiliation, are placing patient care above personal beliefs.”

If passed, the RFRA could pave the way for the proliferation of these and other faith-based policies that could pose further threats to women’s reproductive health.

The right to individual religious freedom is essential to our democracy— and the ACLU has always defended this right. But religious beliefs cannot be used as an excuse to harm others or to imperil the common good.

RFRA oversteps by permitting unabashed discrimination and then justifying that discrimination under the cloak of religious freedom. As Justice Ginsburg noted recently, "(A)ccommodations to religious beliefs or observances...must not significantly impinge on the interests of third parties."

Nowhere is this notion more vital than in matters of women’s health. When institutions allow religious edict to trump appropriate standards of medical care, not only are rights trampled, but human life is endangered.

Contact the Majority Leader’s office right now at (517) 373-3543 to leave a message thanking him for his leadership and encourage him to stay the course and stop this harmful bill from moving forward. 

By Eli Day, Civil Liberties Fellow 

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