HHS Proposes to Partially Rescind the Conscience Rule for Health Workers

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Donald Trump, during his presidency, created a rule prohibiting federal funding for medical facilities that require employees to perform abortions, sterilizations, or take part in euthanasia. This did not prohibit the practice of these procedures, but anyone with moral or religious objections could opt out. They couldn’t be forced to do so.

The Hill reports that the Biden administration has attempted to partially reverse the Trump rule in light of the Dobbs-v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. The Department of Health and Human Services proposed Thursday that it would “restore the long-standing process for handling conscience complaints and provide additional safeguards against conscience and religious discrimination.” It also stated:

Patients also have autonomy, rights, and moral and religious convictions. They also have urgent health needs. To protect the dignity and health of patients, our healthcare systems must provide services that are effective to all those who require them.

The “conscience rule” was technically invalid and was blocked in three federal courts. The ACLU, National Women’s Law Center, and other progressive groups applauded this move. Fox News reports that HHS said:

“In light of these court decisions and in accordance with the administration’s commitments to protecting the rights of federal conscience, and religious nondiscrimination, while protecting access care, this [notice] of proposed rulemaking] proposes partially to rescind the department’s 2019 regulation while strengthening other processes previously in use for the handling religious freedom and conscience complaints.”

The following statement was made by Health Secretary Xavier Becerra:

It is unacceptable for anyone to be discriminated against based on their religious or moral beliefs. This includes those who are providing or seeking care. This proposed rule will strengthen protections for those with religious or moral objections and ensure access to care for all, in accordance with the law.

Melanie Fontes Rainer, Director of the Office for Civil Rights, said:

It is crucial to protect conscience rights and enforce the law against religious discrimination. The proposed rule today would strengthen these protections as well as reinforce our long-standing process of handling religious objections and conscience. It would also take steps to ensure individuals are aware of their rights.

According to Fox, HHS stated that the Trump rule 2019 “provided broad definitions and created new compliance regulations. It also created a new enforcement mechanism to a number of statutes related to conscience rights of certain federally-funded health care entities and providers.” HHS maintains that the provision for conscience was redundant given previous federal legislation.

Here’s an interesting fact: The nation has a severe shortage of nurses. In many facilities, the nurses are overworked, and they are often stretched thin. This problem is also something I am well aware of, as is the Biden administration. It is possible that healthcare workers might have to overlook their objections in a hospital with a shortage of staff. This could be an example of “We know that you object to this procedure for religious reasons, but we don’t have the staff to do it without your help.” “Get in there, now!” I don’t know if this rule was created by accident or deliberate design. However, nurses and other healthcare workers might soon discover that they must participate in abortions regardless of their religious beliefs.