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Conscience Magazine

Why Religious Exemptions Hurt—and Why Catholics Oppose Them

By Catholics for Choice January 26, 2015

It’s not fair to allow some businesses and organizations to discriminate against people who hold different beliefs about marriage, family life and health care. That was the resounding message in polling of 1,000 American Catholic voters in October 2014.

Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, legislative efforts to permit exemptions from laws governing reproductive healthcare have intensified; unfortunately, there has also been an increase in requests for exemptions from other laws that protect everyone’s access to education, healthcare and other services. Many of these efforts have been presented as justified on a tenuous claim of “religious liberty” or “religious freedom”—but their effect is simple discrimination, and there’s nothing Catholic about that. 

Catholics oppose these exemptions because they are anathema to some basic values of Catholicism: social justice, respect for every person’s conscience, and the importance of recognizing the inherent dignity and equality of every person.

Catholics know that individuals have a conscience, and institutions don’t. People have the right to religious liberty—a hospital or school or business just can’t make that claim. Women and their families, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, are hurt first and worst by these refusal clauses. Our laws should support and safeguard a woman’s conscience, no matter how much money she has in her pocket, who she works for or where she lives or goes to school. 



Two-thirds of Catholic voters (67 percent) reject the right of employers to deny insurance coverage of birth control for employees and their dependents based on employers’ religious beliefs.


A strong majority (86 percent) of Catholics disapproves of a guidance counselor refusing to help a gay or lesbian student due to the counselor’s religious beliefs.


Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Catholics disapprove of a law that would allow a business to deny services to employees or customers on the basis of sexual orientation due to an owner’s religious beliefs.


Seventy-six percent disapprove of a pharmacy that “does not fill a prescription for birth control because it goes against the owner’s religious beliefs.”

Catholics for Choice

was founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.