U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced the adoption of a rule that provide conscience protections for healthcare entities and workers.

The rule is part of an overall effort by the Trump Administration to protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty. In May 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring federal departments and agencies to respect religious liberty. The U.S. Department of Justice offered guidance afterward encouraging all agencies and departments to implement and enforce all relevant laws protecting religious freedom.

The rule, first submitted in 2018 after the announcement of creation of the OCR’s Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in 2018 implements tools for enforcing laws passed by Congress that 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.

The new rule replaces a 2011 rule put in place by the Obama Administration that was deemed inadequate.

“Finally, laws prohibiting government-funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” OCR Director Roger Severino said in a released statement. “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.”

Pro-life groups praised the adoption of the rule.

“Today President Trump and HHS Secretary Azar delivered an important victory for conscience rights, fulfilling a key promise to pro-life voters,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said. “Last year the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the Office of Civil Rights was established at HHS to investigate and address conscience violations – an essential step to protect pro-life doctors and nurses like Cathy DeCarlo, who was forced to assist in a late-term abortion or lose her job. These new regulations go even further to put teeth back in the law after years of nonenforcement by the Obama administration. Abortion is not health care and no health care professional should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of human life.”

“As some states attempt to expand abortion on demand through birth, with no conscience protections whatsoever, these regulations underscore the Trump administration’s seriousness about standing up for pro-life health care workers and institutions. We thank President Trump and Secretary Azar for their commitment to fighting discrimination. We also continue to urge Congress to enact a private right of action so victims can seek relief in court in the future, no matter who holds power in Washington,” she added.

“Since being elected, President Trump has consistently made protecting religious liberty a priority of his administration, and this rule is just the latest of many laudable examples,” said Terry Schilling, executive director of American Principles Project.

“Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers of faith should never have to choose between their jobs and their consciences, and this measure will go far towards ensuring that America’s first freedom is fully protected in the healthcare realm. We strongly commend President Trump and HHS for their continued leadership on this issue,” he stated.

“There are many statutes that would protect the conscience rights of health care workers, such as the Weldon amendment. Unfortunately, the previous administration refused to enforce them and looked the other way when violated,” Carol Tobias, President of National Right to Life Committee, said.

“We thank President Trump and his administration for enforcing these laws and protecting health care workers who object to participating in the taking of innocent human life. We applaud the president for following through on another promise,” she added.

“One of the freedoms Americans have cherished most is the freedom to live according to their faith and conscience, free from government coercion. Unfortunately, ADF clients and other nurses, doctors, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” Kellie Fiedorek, Legal Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said. We commend the Trump administration and HHS for this commonsense rule that simply ensures longstanding federal conscience laws are enforced so that no American is forced to choose between violating their beliefs and serving those most in need. By ensuring that entities receiving federal funds do not violate health care entities’and individuals’ freedom of conscience, this rule preserves diversity in the healthcare field and maintains respect for the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.”

“Without these conscience protections, health care professionals across America risk discrimination for refusing to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that they believe are unethical.  We are grateful to the Trump administration for once again protecting religious liberty,” Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, stated.

Photo Credit: Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0)

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