Biden administration seeks to rescind Trump-era ‘conscience’ protections for health workers
The Biden administration is proposing to largely undo a Trump-era rule that boosted the rights of medical workers to refuse to perform abortions or other services that conflicted with their religious or moral beliefs.
In a statement, the Department of Health and Human Services said its proposal would “restore the longstanding process for the handling of conscience complaints and provide additional safeguards to protect against conscience and religious discrimination.”
The move comes as many Republican-led states have enacted abortion bans or strict limits in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The proposal, released Thursday, would partially rescind the Trump administration’s 2019 rule that would have stripped federal funding from health facilities that required workers to provide any service they objected to, like abortions, contraception, gender affirming care and sterilization.
“Some doctors, nurses, and hospitals, for example, object for religious or moral reasons to providing or referring for abortions or assisted suicide, among other procedures. Respecting such objections honors liberty and human dignity. It also redounds to the benefit of the medical profession,” the proposal stated.
But at the same time, it noted “patients also have autonomy, rights, and moral and religious convictions. And they have health needs, sometime[s] urgent ones. Our health care systems must effectively deliver services to all who need them in order to protect patients’ health and dignity.”
The 2019 rule was blocked by three federal courts and never took effect after a number of states, cities and advocacy groups — including New York, California, San Francisco, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood — sued.
The proposal to rescind the so-called “conscience rule” was applauded by progressives as a key part of undoing the Trump administration’s agenda to promote religious conservatism.
“At a time when health care access is under attack across the country, it is even more imperative that this illegal and harmful rule be repealed. Other people’s beliefs do not give them license to discriminate, to deny essential care, or to cause harm to others,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said the proposal is especially important given the fallout from repealing Roe.
“The administration’s action reaffirming that patient health must come first is crucial in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion and the resulting increase in refusals to provide care to patients across the country. It’s more important than ever to protect people seeking health care, including abortion, and to ensure their providers are able to give them the care they need,” Goss Graves said.
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