Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Matter of Conscience

by: Shonda M. Ponder

New Boston, TX - May 5, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- On Thursday, May 2nd, President Trump announced a finalization of a rule on conscience protection in a statement during the National Day of Prayer. In his remarks, the president stated, “Just today, we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students, and faith-based charities. Together, we are building a culture that cherishes the dignity and worth of human life. Every child – born and unborn – is a sacred gift from God.”

The rule ensures that The Department of Health and Human Services implements the full set of tools appropriate for enforcing conscience protections passed by Congress. These federal laws protect providers, individuals, and other health care entities from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.

The Conscience Protection Act has been introduced, on April 1, 2019, with 80 additional Members of Congress co-sponsoring the bill. The Conscience Protection Act would take the next step in protecting the rights of conscience for medical providers by guaranteeing a private right of action for individuals whose conscience rights have been violated, and supporting Americans in having freedom of religion and conscience in healthcare. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced one in the Senate as well.

On May 2, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the issuance of the final conscience rule that protects individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs. Just as OCR enforces other civil rights, the rule implements full and robust enforcement of approximately 25 provisions passed by Congress protecting longstanding conscience rights in healthcare.

The final rule fulfills President Trump’s promise to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty, a promise he made when he signed an executive order in May 2017 protecting religious liberty. In October 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance encouraging other Departments, including HHS, to implement and enforce all relevant religious freedom laws.

As a result, in January 2018, following the launch of its new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, HHS announced the proposed conscience rule. OCR received over 242,000 public comments, and analyzed and carefully considered all comments submitted from the public on the proposed conscience regulation before finalizing it.

This final rule replaces a 2011 rule that has proven inadequate, and ensures that HHS implements the full set of tools appropriate for enforcing the conscience protections passed by Congress. These federal laws protect providers, individuals, and other health care entities from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide. It also includes conscience protections with respect to advance directives.

The final rule clarifies what covered entities need to do to comply with applicable conscience provisions and requires applicants for HHS federal financial assistance to provide assurances and certifications of compliance. The rule also specifies compliance obligations for covered entities, including cooperation with OCR, maintenance of records, reporting, and non-retaliation requirements.

“Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “This rule ensures that healthcare 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. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Severino concluded.

“I support President Trump in his remarks today and in his efforts to protect the conscience of Americans who provide health care. Just last month, I led 80 Members of Congress in introducing the Conscience Protection Act, H.R. 2014, which amends the Public Health Service Act to prevent any federal, state, or local government from penalizing or discriminating against a health care provider if the provider does not participate in highly controversial abortion practices. As a physician and lawmaker, I support conscience protection because I strongly believe that health care providers should not be forced to violate their conscience when providing care for patients, and I applaud President Trump and his administration in their efforts to support conscience protection for all Americans,” said Harris.

Doug Lamborn (R-CO, 5th) also expressed his approval, saying, "Our doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals should never be forced into performing actions that violate their conscience. Americans of faith are moved with compassion to enter the medical field, often serving the most vulnerable populations. I am proud that doctors and nurses of faith who seek to save lives, will never again be forced to end them."

Among the organizations that support the new rule is Alliance Defending Freedom. “One of the freedoms Americans have cherished most is the freedom to live according to their faith and conscience, free from government coercion. Unfortunately, ADF clients and other nurses, doctors, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life. We commend the Trump administration and HHS for this commonsense rule that simply ensures longstanding federal conscience laws are enforced so that no American is forced to choose between violating their beliefs and serving those most in need. By ensuring that entities receiving federal funds do not violate health care entities’ and individuals’ freedom of conscience, this rule preserves diversity in the healthcare field and maintains respect for the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm," said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek.

However, the rule addresses more than abortion. It also addresses transgender issues. This rule allows those in healthcare to refuse to assist is gender transformation services if their religion or conscience says it is wrong, as well as sterilization or assisted suicide.

ACLU calls it discrimination, saying, “Once again, this Administration shows itself to be determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law. This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others. Denying patients health care is not religious liberty. Discriminating against patients based on their gender or gender expression is not religious liberty. Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care."

Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, president of the American Psychological Association commented, “Health care providers’ religious- and conscience-based right to act according to their beliefs is already enshrined in law and needs not be expanded. This rule is likely to prevent access to reproductive health care and information, particularly for low-income and minority women, and could also prevent access to care and information for other populations, specifically lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and individuals living with HIV and AIDS. This so-called ‘conscience rule’ is flatly unconscionable.”

“Thanks to President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar for overturning the Obamacare mandate that violated the religious faith and moral convictions of faith-based medical providers,” said Executive Director of the Faith and Family Coalition, Tim Head. “This new rule lifts a cloud of fear that has hung over people of faith for nearly a decade, and ensures that doctors, nurses, and other health providers will no longer be subjected to litigation, harassment, and persecution simply for expressing their religious beliefs.”

“The Conscience Rule fulfills President Trump’s promise from his 2017 Executive Order to promote and protect religious liberty for faith-based organizations to operate within the tenets of their faith without fear of government bureaucrats infringing upon their First Amendment rights,” added Head.

The National Organization of Women argue that "His conscience rule is morally bankrupt, legally indefensible and unconscionable for anyone who cares about the constitutional protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." NOW President Toni Van Pelt added that, "NOW supports a legal challenge to this blatantly political policy. We will work tirelessly to keep it from taking effect and continue to demand protection for women’s right to health care."

Opponents call the rule "discriminatory" and "dangerous." This is only true if the patient seeking these services do not have the option of choosing a healthcare provider, doctor or service from someone who does not find it offensive to perform. Judging from the number of services provided, and the success and funding of Planned Parenthood's reach, I don't think that is a problem.