Protection of conscience laws ensure that people cannot be forced to facilitate practices or procedures to which they object for reasons of conscience. These may include abortion, capital punishment, contraception, sterilization, artificial reproduction, euthanasia, assisted suicide, human experimentation, torture, etc. An adequate protection of conscience law should protect conscientious objectors from coercive hiring or employment practices, discrimination and other forms of punishment or pressure. It should also include protection from civil liability.
Conscience clauses are usually less comprehensive than protection of conscience laws and afford varying degrees of protection for conscientious objectors. They may appear in statutes or in the policies of organizations or institutions.
Protection of conscience laws and conscience clauses are needed because powerful interests are inclined to force health care workers and others to participate, directly or indirectly, in morally controversial procedures. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and others have been denied employment, dismissed, or penalized because of objections to abortion, contraception or the morning-after pill. The same pressure will almost certainly be applied to force conscientious objectors to participate in reproductive technology, eugenic screening, and in euthanasia and assisted suicide, particularly where such things are legal or are tolerated.