243101 Below the radar: How religious institutions' refusal to provide certain reproductive health care violates patients' rights

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jill C. Morrison, JD , Health and Reproductive Rights, National Women's Law Center, Washington, DC
A serious but little known problem is putting women's health and lives at risk: because of their religious beliefs, certain health care providers do not give appropriate treatment or information to women experiencing serious pregnancy complications. A growing body of evidence indicates that both individual and institutional health care providers have denied or delayed treatment and information to women experiencing both ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. Because there are detectable embryonic or fetal heart tones, the providers assert that any intervention that would terminate the pregnancy constitutes an abortion in violation of their religious beliefs. However, these are situations where there is no medical intervention that would allow these pregnancies to continue. Prompt medical intervention is necessary to prevent serious and potentially deadly complications. The Medicare Conditions of Participation (CoPs), federal regulations that apply to all hospitals that receive Medicare funds, include provisions requiring hospitals to provide the standard of care, emergency care, and to obtain informed consent prior to treatment. These provisions should ensure that women get prompt treatment and comprehensive information on their treatment options according to the standard of care. Unfortunately, because the problem of religious refusals is largely unknown, even to medical professionals, women experiencing pregnancy complications remain vulnerable to substandard treatment in violation of their legal rights. Advocates have petitioned the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that enforces the CoPs, requesting that they remind providers of their existing obligations, investigate these harmful practices, and take affirmative steps to prevent further violations.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify refusals to provide reproductive health care that may violate existing federal laws. 2. Identify and apply existing federal laws that protect patientsí right to receive emergency care, the standard of care and informed consent to treatment. 3. Evaluate medical treatment scenarios for potential violations of patientsí legal rights. 4. File complaints regarding violations with the relevant federal authorities.

Keywords: Law, Maternal Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have twelve years of experience in the area of religiously-based restrictions on reproductive health care, and have developed a number of successful legal theories that have been applied to protect women's access to reproductive health care.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.