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Everyone should have access to quality health care and accurate medical information when they need it.

Everyone should have access to quality health care and accurate medical information when they need it. But refusal laws (sometimes called “conscience” laws) let some people refuse to provide care to patients.

These laws allow individuals and institutions to refuse to provide or pay for medical treatments they find objectionable—or even counsel or refer patients for those treatments.

This means doctors, hospitals, pharmacists, businesses and insurance companies could withhold the health care you are seeking and refuse to provide complete information about your medical options.

These laws can affect a broad range of reproductive-health services, including:

  • Contraception

  • Genetic counseling

  • Infertility treatment

  • Treatment for survivors of sexual assault

  • Sterilization

  • STD and HIV testing

  • Abortion care, including information and referrals


After Roe v. Wade, there was a concerted effort by anti-choice forces in Congress, in state legislatures and in the courts to enact refusal laws. Over the years, these laws have expanded to include individual health-care professionals as well as hospitals, employers, health insurers and pharmacies. A federal refusal law even allows institutions to refuse to provide referrals for abortion care.

In some states, that means your local pharmacy could refuse to fill your prescription for birth control. And it means a Catholic hospital could refuse to provide abortion care for a woman whose health is at risk.

Refusal laws disproportionately affect low-income and rural women. Difficulty obtaining time off from work, finding transportation and making child care arrangements increase the burden of seeking medical care from an alternate provider. Women who live far from large cities also may face challenges if the provider or institution closest to them refuses to provide care. In some rural areas, the next-closest provider may be more than 100 miles away.

Refusal laws limit access to complete information and the full range of medical care while making it nearly impossible for some women to access abortion services. Other women have difficulty accessing the full range of reproductive-health care they may need to choose how to raise their families.

Health-care institutions have a duty to make sure patients receive accurate information and appropriate care. Failure to provide this care is wrong and puts Americans’ health in jeopardy.

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