The Biden administration is planning to end a Trump-era rule allowing medical workers to refuse to provide services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs, according to Politico.
The “conscience rule” was first proposed in January 2018, along with the launch of the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. Although the rule never took effect due to ongoing litigation, its purpose was to protect health care employers and workers who oppose abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide and other medical procedures on religious or moral grounds.
Rescinding the rule is seen by progressive activists as a key part of rebuffing the Trump administration’s insistence on upholding the sanctity of life and religious liberty. But Americans United for Life argues that rolling back conscience protections for health care professionals would violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.
“The First Amendment promises that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” Natalie M. Hejran, who serves as staff counsel for the organization, said. “… Forcing individuals to participate in actions to which they are conscientiously opposed eviscerates the very purpose for which this nation was founded and formed.”
Matt Bowman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, agrees.
“No American should be forced to violate their ethical and religious beliefs,” he said. “Doctors, nurses and other medical providers should enjoy this same constitutional protection, free to live and work in a manner consistent with their faith. Yet the Biden administration’s proposed rule would abandon health care professionals to being forced to perform medical procedures that directly violate their religious beliefs or risk losing their jobs. This is an illegal and gross overreach of executive power, and we urge the administration to withdraw this harmful proposal immediately.”
Hejran has less faith in the Biden administration, and therefore suggests that states take matters into their own hands.
“Federal protections are applied by appointees of whomever is in the White House, so the level of attention these claims get is subject to the priorities of the HHS secretary and [the] president in power at the time,” she explained. “… When people are left only to rely on federal protections, they are also forced to rely on federal bureaucrats to defend their rights.
“Speak up and reach out to your legislators,” Hejran added. “Encourage them to pass thorough conscience protections for health care providers, institutions and payers. Encourage them to evaluate your existing laws and identify areas that could be strengthened, such as adding more health care professionals like home health workers or pharmacists or updating your enforcement provisions.”
The Biden administration’s suggested policy change is under review at the Office of Management and Budget, which is often the final step before a proposed regulation goes public.