HHS Issues Rule to Protect 'Conscience' Rights of Health Care Workers

By Michael W. Chapman | May 2, 2019 | 5:04 PM EDT

(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) -- On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its final conscience regulation to protect health care entities and workers who, for moral or religious reasons, object to abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide, and related services and products.  

The rule fulfills a pledge by President Trump "to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty, a promise he made when he signed an executive order in May 2017 protecting religious liberty," said the HHS in a statement

"[T]oday we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities," said President Trump at the White House. "They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time."

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As explained by the HHS, this final rule replaces a rule from 2011 that did not adequately protect health care workers at HHS-fund facilities or programs from discrimination. The rule seeks to ensure that all of the conscience protections already passed by Congress over the years are fully implemented for people working in HHS-funded care facilities. 

"These federal laws protect providers, individuals, and other health care entities from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide," said the HHS.  "It also includes conscience protections with respect to advance directives," such as assisted suicide.

Roger Severino, the HHS Office of Civil Rights director, said, "Finally, laws prohibiting government-funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law. This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life."

"Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” said Severino. 

Maureen Ferguson, a senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association, said, “The Constitution and numerous federal laws provide robust protections for the conscience rights of medical professionals, yet these laws are being violated as doctors, nurses, and medical students are being compelled to participate in abortion and other procedures. "

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images) 

"Non-discrimination laws such as these are foundational rights in a free society, and we are grateful to [HHS] Secretary Azar for issuing these new regulations to ensure the protection of basic conscience rights and freedom of religion," said Ferguson. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said. “Those who serve our nation’s sick in the health care industry, or who are training to do so, should not be forced to violate their conscience in the process. The new Health and Human Services rule will ensure that the rights of medical professionals, guaranteed by the United States Constitution as well as federal law, will be respected."

"No one should be forced to participate in life-ending procedures like abortion or similar activities that go against their religious beliefs or moral convictions," she said.

Critics of the rule said it would prevent women from getting complete care.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU, told the New York Times, “Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others. This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. … Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”

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David Stacy with the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said, “The Trump-Pence administration’s latest attack threatens LGBTQ people by permitting medical providers to deny critical care based on personal beliefs. The administration’s decision puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone deserves access to medically necessary care and should never be turned away because of who they are or who they love.”

HRC said the conscience protection rule would "sanction discrimination" because health care workers would be allowed to follow their religious beliefs. 

“The Trump-Pence Administration will stop at nothing to strip patients of the care they deserve," said the National Women's Law Center in a statement. "This rule allows anyone from a doctor to a receptionist to entities like hospitals and pharmacies to deny a patient critical – and sometimes lifesaving – care. Personal beliefs should never determine the care a patient receives. This is a vicious and underhanded attack on the health and lives of patients, particularly targeting women and LGBTQ individuals."

Plan B, which can operate by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting
on the uterine wall. (YouTube)
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman

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