Emory’s Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative and Northeastern University School of Law are co-hosting a Workshop on Reproductive and Sexual Justice on April 29th & 30th at Northeastern’s Dockser Hall.
This workshop will seek to reflect upon the issues of reproductive rights, sexual health, and sexual violence through the lens of vulnerability as a way to advance discussion on related issues of social justice.
I will be presenting a draft paper on A Vulnerability Theory Approach to Individual and Institutional Conscience Exemptions in the Reproductive Healthcare Setting. Conscience exemption laws allow healthcare providers, institutions, and even insurance companies to object to the provision of reproductive healthcare. They also allow those individual and institutional actors to block patients’ access to information and deny referrals to other providers. Under these expansive federal and state laws, a Catholic hospital can refuse to tell a pregnant patient that her fetus has a serious and significant birth defect because of its belief that knowledge could lead the woman to abort the fetus; a religious provider can refuse to provide a miscarrying woman with care until her life is threatened by a deadly infection; and a pharmacist can refuse to fill a valid prescription for birth control.
While conscience exemptions are written in the language of civil rights – to protect individual religious autonomy – they countenance discrimination against women who seek lawful reproductive healthcare. Using Martha Fineman’s Vulnerability Theory, I argue that the state has an obligation to ensure all people have access to information and healthcare and the right to healthcare, particularly reproductive care, must outweigh the religious exercise rights of institutions, insurance companies, and sometimes individual providers.