What Is The Medical Right?

Marjorie Signer, a women’s rights activist in Virginia, coined the term “Medical Right” to describe the connection between religiously influenced pseudo-medical organizations and the “Religious Right,” a fundamentalist political force.  “Religious Right” organizations intentionally mingle politics and religion.

Unlike the traditional anti-abortion movement with its focus on ending abortion, the Medical Right has a broad array of targets, including 

  • securing embryo and fetal legal protections,
  • limiting the availability of contraception,
  • funding abstinence education and crisis pregnancy centers,
  • expanding the grounds for refusing medical services.

Medical Right organizations work to provide medical/scientific foundation for laws and policies on these issues.

The Medical Right posts a threat to women’s reproductive health, to the sexual health of all people and to religious liberty. Read the full report here. 

The Effect of the Medical Right

Mingling science and fundamentalist religious views, the Medical Right has made substantial inroads in limiting access to women’s reproductive healthcare. Since 2000, it has been successful in giving pharmacists and other healthcare providers broad rights to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and emergency contraception, placing abstinence education in schools, building a network of highly-funded crisis pregnancy centers that reinforce the Religious Right political agenda, delaying the approval of non-prescription sales of emergency contraception for three years, casting doubt about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and placing obstacles before medical researchers studying stem cells as an avenue for cures for a host of diseases. Working with allied legal groups, it has injected its definition of personhood in laws and regulations across the country, laying the foundation for declaring fetal life to be equal in status to children and adults and potentially upending abortion rights.

Whether offshoots of professional associations, single-issue groups, multi-issue “family values” organizations, advocacy agencies or bioethics institutes, Medical Right groups are linked with each other and numerous Religious Right policy organizations. Many are funded by the same donors.

Individuals associated with the Medical Right use their medical and science backgrounds as platforms to promote and lend authenticity to ideologically based views that contradict accepted medical consensus. They present their views in the courts, legislative bodies, government policy committees, scientific journals, and the media. As a result, scientific, health, and medical issues are increasingly being blurred and distorted in areas of reproductive health, reproductive technology, sexual health education, fertility and infertility treatments, stem cell and other medical research, contraception, HIV/AIDS care, and healthcare funding.

The growth of the Medical Right should be a cause for concern to those who value scientific integrity and healthcare based on medical need and informed decisions. Equally disturbing is the disregard for the principle of the separation of church and state in the drive to impose sectarian religious tenets on people of all faiths and beliefs.

The danger of the Medical Right is not only that it will limit reproductive healthcare and medicine but that it will undermine gains in women’s rights, gender equity, respect for diversity, and the acceptance of diverse forms of family.

This report was originally developed while Ms. Signer was communications director at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The edited report will be posted here.

Also see



The Medical Right influence in end-of-life decisions