Skip to main content

Healthcare professionals tell courts: We won't sacrifice our conscience rights

ADF files brief on behalf of physician groups that support Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019
SAN FRANCISCO and NEW YORK – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed friend-of-the-court briefs Wednesday with federal district courts in California and New York state on behalf of four non-profit medical organizations that support the Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May.

The briefs in City and County of San Francisco v. Azar and State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services represent the views of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and the Catholic Medical Association.

“Medical professionals should never have to sacrifice the core convictions that led them to enter medicine, in order to serve in that very field,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle. “That’s why protecting the freedom to live and work consistent with one’s conscience is critical: It is at the heart of what motivates many who enter the medical field, a profession full of individuals who dedicate their lives to healing and doing no harm. That freedom must not be sacrificed in the name of business interests, political goals, or the convenience of others. The Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule is constitutionally sound and consistent with related federal laws.”

ADF’s friend-of-the-court briefs explain that Congress has repeatedly passed laws demonstrating a bipartisan intent that health care professionals not be coerced into violating their beliefs. However, states have often shown disregard for protecting freedom of conscience for medical practitioners. In response to a prior federal attempt to shore up conscience protections, 13 state attorneys general signed a letter denouncing the regulations, and seven states later filed suit to block them. The brief also lists state attempts to require medical practitioners and institutions to provide abortion referrals and provide counsel or counseling referrals to terminal patients for physician-assisted suicide.

“Despite clear constitutional principles assuring respect for conscience, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life. “The government may not pick and choose which views deserve protection. This commonsense rule simply ensures longstanding federal conscience laws are enforced so that no American is forced to choose between violating their beliefs and serving those most in need.”

As the friend-of-the-court briefs explain, “Conscience rights are not limited based on one’s professional status. Plaintiffs’ argument that too many health care workers’ consciences would be protected under the HHS Conscience Rule shows a misunderstanding of the fundamental rights we have historically protected—beginning with the guarantees of the First Amendment. Individual conscience rights are paramount, regardless of a person’s job title or role. Decades of Supreme Court caselaw teach that complicity in an act creates an unconstitutional conscience burden.”
  • Pronunciation guide: Harle (HAR'-lee), Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
# # # | Ref. 69792, 69798

Legal Documents

Amicus brief filed with 9th Circuit: City and County of San Francisco v. Azar
Amicus brief filed with 2nd Circuit: State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Amicus brief filed in district court: City and County of San Francisco v. Azar
Amicus brief filed in district court: State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Related Resources

ABOUT Denise Harle

Denise Harle serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Life. Prior to joining ADF, Harle served as deputy solicitor general in the Office of the Florida Attorney General, where she drafted appellate briefs and presented oral arguments on behalf of the state in a wide variety of constitutional cases, including defending the constitutionality of pro-life laws. In 2017, she participated in the prestigious Supreme Court Fellow program, sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General. She clerked for Justice Ricky L. Polston on the Florida Supreme Court and worked for several years as an appellate litigator at a large firm in California. Harle earned bachelor’s degrees, summa cum laude, in psychology and interdisciplinary social science from Florida State University, a master’s degree in political science from Stanford University, and a Juris Doctor from Duke University School of Law. At Duke, she served as the executive editor of Law & Contemporary Problems. A member of the state bars of California, Florida, and Georgia, she is admitted to multiple federal district and appellate courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

ABOUT Kevin Theriot

Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Life Team working to defend pro-life laws and speech and protect medical rights of conscience. He has litigated cases in the areas of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Theriot is admitted to the bar in eight states, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous other federal courts of appeal and district courts. Theriot received his law degree from Vanderbilt University and has been litigating First Amendment issues since 1993.