The Fourteenth Amendment rights of various parties in the abortion context – the pregnant woman, the fetus, the fetus’ father, the state – have been discussed at length by commentators and the courts. Surprisingly, the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the healthcare provider asked to provide the abortion have not. Roe and Casey establish a pregnant woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to decide for herself whether to have an abortion. Do those same precedents also protect her doctor’s right to decide whether to participate in abortion procedures?
The Court’s substantive due process analysis typically looks for rights that are “deeply rooted” in our history and traditions. Accordingly, this article addresses the historical basis for finding that providers do indeed have a Fourteenth Amendment right to refuse to perform abortions. This historical analysis shows that the right to refuse passes the Court’s stated test for Fourteenth Amendment protection. In fact, the right to refuse actually has better historical support, and better satisfies the Court’s stated tests, than the abortion right itself.
Beyond this historical case, a healthcare provider’s right to make this decision also fits squarely within the zone of individual decision-making protected by the Court’s opinions in Casey and Lawrence v. Texas, and protects providers from the types of psychological harm that the Court recognized in Roe and Casey. For these reasons, under Roe and Casey, a healthcare provider has a Fourteenth Amendment right to refuse to participate in abortions.
Mark L. Rienzi, The Constitutional Right not to Participate in Abortions: Roe, Casey, and the Fourteenth Amendment Rights of Healthcare Providers, 87 NOTRE DAME L. REV. 1 (2011).