US: New Rule Protects Health Care Workers Who Refuse Care For Religious Reasons

The Trump administration issued a new rule Thursday that gives health care workers leeway to refuse to provide services like abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide, if they cite a religious or conscientious objection.

The rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, is designed to protect the religious rights of health care providers and religious institutions.

According to a statement issued by HHS's Office for Civil Rights, the new rule affirms existing conscience protections established by Congress.

"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," OCR Director Roger Severino said in a written statement. "Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it's the law."

Last year Severino made it clear that defending religious freedom was his primary goal when he created a new Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. "Never forget that religious freedom is a primary freedom, that it is a civil right that deserves enforcement and respect," Severino said when he created the division.

As part of that change in focus, HHS in the last week also changed the Office for Civil Rights' mission statement to highlight its focus on protecting religious freedom.

Until last week, the website said the office's mission was to "improve the health and well-being of people across the nation" and to ensure people have equal access to health care services provided by HHS. But the new statement repositions the OCR asa law enforcement agency that enforces civil rights laws, and conscience and religious freedom laws, and "protects that exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions by individuals and institutions."

That change, which was first noted by the Sunlight Foundation, dovetails with the new rule issued Thursday.

The rule finalized Thursday allows health care workers who have a "religious or conscience" objection to medical procedures such as birth control or sterilization to refuse to participate in those procedures, even in a tangential way. This represents an expansion of existing protections. Read more via NPR