HHS rule lets health care workers refuse care that violates religious beliefs

Grant Boone
May 4, 2019

"President Trump announced today new regulations that will enforce over two-dozen federal laws so that healthcare professionals won't be forced to choose between their moral beliefs and their desire to help patients".

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk out to participate in a National Day of Prayer event in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday May 2, 2019, in Washington. "They've been wanting to do that a long time".

"The language introduced into OCR's mission and vision statements appears to reflect new priorities of the office and foreshadows yet-to-be-released new rules that are expected to downplay LGBTQ rights in favor of religious freedoms", the Sunlight Foundation noted.

"We thank President Trump and Secretary Azar for their commitment to fighting discrimination", she said.

Since it was first proposed previous year, the proposal has drawn widespread criticism from civil rights advocates who say it will provide cover for discrimination.

But if it does and San Francisco refuses to comply with the new enforcement mechanisms, the northern California liberal stronghold could stand to lose around $1 billion in federal funding, the city attorney's office says.

Most of these laws and provisions address medical procedures such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.

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Rather, the regulation will guarantee that religious and conscience protections already on the books can't be ignored.

Past year on the National Day of Prayer, Trump had said that "prayer changes hearts and transforms lives". "It makes sure Congress' protections are not merely empty words on paper".

"This rule ensures that health care 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 added. Health and Human Services (HHS) officials contend these were inadequately enforced so this new rule clarifies those protections and includes additional enforcement. The administration has created a conscience and religious freedom division within the office.

The National Women's Law Center, which advocates for abortion rights, said in a statement that the regulation will allow "anyone from a doctor to a receptionist to entities like hospitals and pharmacies to deny a patient critical - and sometimes lifesaving - care".

Equality California's Executive Director Rick Zbur said in an email statement that in the past two years the Trump administration has, "relentlessly attacked LGBTQ people - including transgender servicemembers, children and workers, and Thursday's attack is one of their most heartless and risky yet". Critics of the rule said it could lead to discrimination and a dearth of certain services, as health care providers may decline to offer certain procedures or treat gay or transgender individuals. That is the biggest fear we have with doing this work. 'And our hearts break for the life of Laurie Gilbert-Kaye who was so wickedly taken from us.

Among religious conservatives, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins called the regulation an answer to prayer. "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".

But Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the administration has opened the door to discrimination.

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