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HHS announces final rule protecting individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience

by | May 2, 2019

“Health care providers should never be forced or coerced into participating in abortion”—Rep. Chris Smith

By Dave Andrusko

Earlier today, National Right to Life thanked the Trump administration for release of the final HHS rule that protects individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs. The title of the final 440 page long rule is “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority.”

“I’m grateful that HHS is taking meaningful action to protect the conscience rights of all Americans,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus “Health care should be about saving life, not taking life. Health care providers should never be forced or coerced into participating in abortion. The Office for Civil Rights is now better empowered to protect individuals from having their moral convictions about the sanctity of human life violated.”

Rep. Smith is a cosponsor of HR 2014, the “Conscience Protection Act of 2019,” which passed the House of Representatives in previous Congresses. The bill would guarantee a private right of action for victims of abortion discrimination.

Here’s how Health and Human Services outlined its objectives:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today the issuance of the final conscience rule that protects individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs. Just as OCR enforces other civil rights, the rule implements full and robust enforcement of approximately 25 provisions passed by Congress protecting longstanding conscience rights in healthcare.

The final rule fulfills President Trump’s promise 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. In October 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance encouraging other Departments, including HHS, to implement and enforce all relevant religious freedom laws.

As a result, in January 2018, following the launch of its new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, HHS announced the proposed conscience rule. OCR received over 242,000 public comments, and analyzed and carefully considered all comments submitted from the public on the proposed conscience regulation before finalizing it.

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

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

All of this is anathema to those (and their numbers are legion) bound and determined to compel health personnel to be involved in abortion. It started when the Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

That was bad enough. But then when someone—Roger Severino—who takes religious liberties very seriously was appointed to be head of OCR, it was almost too much to bear.

There were any number of snarky critics who (as we wrote back in 2018), “scoff at the idea that believers can be coerced into violating their beliefs. They are, we’re snootily informed, ‘more often the perpetrators of injustice than victims of it.’”

However, those of us with friends and family in the real world know how untrue this is and how critically important it is to have a legal backstop in place to protect rights of conscience.

Congratulations and thank you to President Trump.

Categories: Conscience Rights