As Idaho Law Takes Effect, Measures Are ‘Area of Continuing Legal
For Some, ‘Conscience Clause’ Gives Pause
“The reach of conscience clauses and how they are to be interpreted in
light of patient rights is an area of continuing legal controversy.”
By Matthew Malamud, News Staff
|Illustration: John Michael Yanson
On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its
decision in Roe v. Wade, guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion. Within
weeks, Congress enacted the first ever so-called “conscience clause.”
Such clauses protect health care providers from liability for
refusing to perform services that, though legal, they consider repugnant to
their religious or moral values.
This March, Idaho’s legislature approved the Freedom of
Conscience for Health Care Professionals Act, expanding that state’s conscience
clause to preclude all licensed health care professionals — including clinical
social workers — from having to counsel, advise, perform, dispense or assist in
any health care services that violate their religious, moral or ethical
principles, such as abortion.
Idaho isn’t alone in allowing providers to refuse services
over matters of conscience. Forty-six states specifically exempt individual
health care providers from having to perform abortion services if doing so goes
against their conscience, according to statistics compiled by the Guttmacher
Institute, a think tank that tracks sexual and reproductive health issues.
However, Idaho’s conscience clause, effective July 1, goes
much further to state that health care providers don’t even have to offer a
referral for services they themselves are unwilling to perform.
That has NASW Idaho Chapter Executive Director Delmar Stone
“It’s difficult enough for women to find reproductive health
care services in our state,” Stone told NASW News. “This law is yet another
In Idaho, a mostly rural state with huge stretches of
medically underserved areas, a health care professional’s refusal to provide
services may be tantamount to a complete denial of care for the patient because
of the lack of proximity to a willing provider.
Stone, who lobbied against the law, also is concerned about
the potential for social workers to run roughshod over the profession’s code of
“Social workers may use the law to avoid making decisions
based on ethical principles, and, instead, act out of religious doctrine in
governing their professional behavior,” he noted.
Click here for
full story…> >
From July 2010 NASW News. © 2010 National
Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved. NASW News
articles may be copied for personal use, but proper notice of
copyright and credit to the NASW News must appear on all copies
made. This permission does not apply to reproduction for advertising,
promotion, resale, or other commercial purposes.