Conscience Clause Law & Legal Definition


Conscience clause is a legislative provision that relieves a person from compliance on religious grounds. It permits pharmacists, physicians, and other health care providers not to provide certain medical services for reasons of religion or conscience. The provision is most frequently enacted in connection with issues relating to reproduction, such as abortion, sterilization, and contraception, but may include any phase of patient care.

This clause was first enacted in response to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (U.S. 1973). Roe v. Wade was the landmark decision establishing that most laws against abortion violate a constitutional right to privacy, overturning all state laws outlawing or restricting abortion.

The conscience clause may constitutionally permit private hospitals and health care facilities and physicians, nurses and employees to refuse to perform or participate in performing abortions for "ethical, moral, religious or professional reasons. However, the conscience clause, as applied to public hospitals, unconstitutionally interferes with the woman's constitutional right to abortion by permitting public hospitals to proscribe first trimester abortions and to proscribe second trimester abortions on grounds broader than "maternal health." [Wolfe v. Schroering, 541 F.2d 523, 527 (6th Cir. Ky. 1976)]

The following is an example of a state statute (Minnesota) on Conscience clause:

According to Minn. Stat. § 145.414 (a) no person and no hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion for any reason.