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Health and Human Services Department Passes Religious Conscience Rule

July 10th, 2019

A new religious conscience rule promoted by President Trump purports to protect religious liberty, but critics view it as a means to discriminate.
A new religious conscience rule promoted by President Trump purports to protect religious liberty, but critics view it as a means to discriminate.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the issuance of a new final conscience rule, which is designed to protect individuals and health care entities from discrimination claims on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS funded programs.

The conscience rule implements full enforcement of 25 provisions passed by Congress protecting healthcare rights. However, critics of the rule say it represents a profound barrier to receiving medical care for LGBTQ individuals and other “at risk” patient groups.

The History of the Conscience Rule

This regulation is viewed as part of President Trump’s promise to protect the fundamental rights of religious liberty.

President Trump first promised to protect these rights when he signed an executive order in May 2017 protecting religious liberty. Later, in October 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance encouraging other departments including HHS to enforce all applicable religious freedom laws.

In response, in January 2018, HHS announced its new conscience rule. During the public review period, 242,000 comments were received for the regulation and each was carefully analyzed.

The Purpose of the New Regulation

The purpose of the regulation is to protect individuals as well as health care entities from discrimination by government actors as the result of religious beliefs.

The rule makes sure that healthcare professionals do not feel compelled to leave their profession because they refuse to participate in activities that violate their religious rights.

The conscience rule is also designed to allow health care institutions to maintain their religious beliefs while carrying out their missions to provide care.

Opposition to this New Law

Critics of this new law have responded that it provides too much power to medical professionals who want to opt out of providing medical care when they disagree with a patient’s life choices. Opponents to the bill argue that the proposed law has a number of implications beyond its purpose including greatly reducing the access to care for at-risk populations.

A director for UCLA’s Williams Institute has also argued that this new regulation will create substantial barriers in obtaining critical access to medical care for some patient populations.

Physicians and other medical professionals have also argued that the conscience rule will erase protections for vulnerable patients including LGBTQ individuals. As a result, in April 2018, the American Medical Association wrote to the secretary of HHS warning that the regulation would place vulnerable patient populations at greater risk. The American Medical Association has also argued that the conscience rights for medical professionals are not unlimited.

The Universal Life Church

It remains uncertain whether this new HHS rule will remain in place, but it is likely to encounter a number of legal challenges from at-risk patient populations. Despite the advancements of LGBTQ rights over the last decade, there are still some individuals who assert that these laws violate their religious rights. As this debate continues, the Universal Life Church’s blog is committed to covering the most noteworthy issues in this area of law.

(image courtesy of Hush Naidoo)

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