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Thursday, January 18, 2024

Biden administration rescinds much of Trump ‘conscience’ rule for health workers

Nathan Weixel
The Hill
Originally published 9 Jan 24

The Biden administration will 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.

The final rule released Tuesday partially rescinds the Trump administration’s 2019 policy that would have stripped federal funding from health facilities that required workers to provide any service they objected to, such as abortions, contraception, gender-affirming care and sterilization.

The health care conscience protection statutes represent Congress’s attempt to strike a balance between maintaining access to health care and honoring religious beliefs and moral convictions, the Department of Health and Human Services said in the rule.

“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,” the department said.

But at the same time, Health and Human Services said “patients also have rights and health needs, sometimes urgent ones. The Department will continue to respect the balance Congress struck, work to ensure individuals understand their conscience rights, and enforce the law.”

Summary from Healthcare Dive

The HHS Office of Civil Rights has again updated guidance on providers’ conscience rights. The latest iteration, announced on Tuesday, aims to strike a balance between honoring providers’ religious and moral beliefs and ensuring access to healthcare, according to the agency.

President George W. Bush created conscience rules in 2008, which codify the rights of healthcare workers to refuse to perform medical services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs. Since then, subsequent administrations have rewritten the rules, with Democrats limiting the scope and Republicans expanding conscience protections. 

The most recent revision largely undoes a 2019 Trump-era policy — which never took effect — that sought to expand the rights of healthcare workers broadly to refuse to perform medical services, such as abortions, on religious or moral grounds.