By Margot Sanger Katz, May 2, 2019
| New York Times – President Trump on Thursday announced an expanded “conscience rule” to protect health care workers who oppose abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide and other medical procedures on religious or moral grounds.
The rule establishes guidelines for punishing health care institutions with the loss of federal funds if they fail to respect the rights of such workers.
“Just today, we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” Mr. Trump said in a Rose Garden event for the National Day of Prayer. “They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”
After the 440-page rule was released, some groups said they feared the provisions were overly broad and could imperil care for patients seeking reproductive health care.
They also said it could lead to discrimination against gay or transgender patients and their children, and weaken public health efforts to expand childhood vaccinations.
“The rule allows a very wide range of people — from the receptionist to the boards of hospitals and everyone in between — to deny a patient’s medical care if their personal beliefs get in the way,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the president of the National Women’s Law Center.
Ms. Fatima described the rule as not only tightening enforcement of civil rights laws but also changing the balance of rights between patients and their clinicians.
The rule was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office for Civil Rights, which has been substantially expanded under President Trump.
The administration has created a conscience and religious freedom division within the office, and the president’s budget sought to expand its funding.
It is part of a portfolio of policy changes meant to broaden religious exemptions for certain types of medical practice.
The administration has already created new exemptions for the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer health plans cover contraceptive care, though that change has been delayed in court.
Another rule, still in its proposed stage, would modify civil rights requirements that bar discrimination by hospitals and insurance companies against transgender patients and women with a history of abortion. Read more.