Contraceptive Mandates and Conscience – All Objections Are Not Equal

By Jonathan F. Will

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday proposed rules regarding exemptions for those objecting to the contraceptive mandate.  Whenever I read about conscientious objections to health care services made by providers, patients, or indeed, employers, I am reminded that all objections are not equal.

As Mark Wicclair, and others, have written, studies show that medical professionals may object to services based on clinically false information.  For instance, certain pharmacists reported that they objected to emergency contraception on the mistaken belief that Plan B was the same thing as RU-486 (mifepristone, or the “abortion pill”).  Similarly, a prominent general practitioner admitted to making decisions regarding the prescription of oral contraception without fully understanding the mechanisms of operation that prevent pregnancy.  If medical professionals make decisions based on ignorance, one can suspect that lay employers and patients do as well.

This suggests that individuals often lack the information necessary to truly assess their stance on morally controversial services.  While the law does (and should) play a role in protecting conscience, it seems unsatisfying when such protection is granted to those holding underdeveloped views, and at the expense of (and detriment to) those seeking legal medical services.

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About Jonathan Will

Jonathan is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Faculty Development, Professor of Law and is the founding director of the Bioethics & Health Law Center at Mississippi College School of Law. He is also on the affiliate faculty of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Jonathan teaches upper level courses in Health Law and Bioethics, and has been voted 1L Professor of the Year for his section of Civil Procedure in every year in which he was eligible. In addition to commenting for the American Journal of Bioethics, his recent work focuses on medical decision-making, reproductive rights, and the implications of the nationwide personhood movement.