The Corner

Law & the Courts

RFRA Does Not Apply to State Law

In response to Wolcott

The ACLU suing a Catholic hospital for refusing to permit surgeons to excise healthy organs as a treatment for gender dysphoria is merely the latest legal case broght against a Catholic hospital for following Catholic moral teaching.

The attacks on doctors and hospitals exercising moral refusals to perform controversial interventions are going to get more intense. Indeed, medical conscience is going to be one of the most important and contentious issues in the coming decade, impacting controversies such as abortion and assisted suicide–in which current conscience legal protections are under pressure among medical associations–as well as pharmacists being forced to dispense the morning after pill, and other contentious questions that rub against the practice of medicine and nursing.

But I am afraid Alexandra’s hope that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will protect the California hospital is in vain. The RFRA only applies to federal laws and regulations, which is why Hobby Lobby was able to prevail in its case before the Supreme Court.

But a Washington pharmacy that sued based on the religious beliefs of its owners to keep from being forced by a state regulation to dispense abortifacients–conscience refusals explicitly disallowed in the regulation–have, so far, lost in every court. One reason is that Washington does not have a state RFRA.

Similarly, California hasn’t and won’t pass its own RFRA. Hence, the Catholic hospital being sued will have to rely on other legal theories for protecting its right to follow Catholic moral teaching.

I discuss more about the issue of protecting medical conscience here.