Compassion & Choices Sees Progress in Challenge to Federal “Conscience Rule”

Proposed changes to the rule would increase access to care and prevent discrimination.
January 20, 2023

On January 5, the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published the Safeguarding the Rights of Conscience as Protected by Federal Statutes rule, a follow-up to its harmful 2019 “conscience rule.” The 2019 rule was widely criticized for weaponizing religious freedom to allow medical workers to refuse to provide care that conflicted with their personal beliefs. The new rule would partially rescind the 2019 rule and focus on strengthening protections for healthcare workers with conscience complaints without sacrificing access to healthcare services.

The American Bar Association stated that the 2019 rule, which was deemed unlawful by three federal courts, expanded religious liberty to the point of curtailing patient rights. The new rule seeks to better balance a patient’s right to timely care with a medical professional’s right to religious or conscious objections. “Respecting such objections honors liberty and human dignity,” the rule states, but notes that parts of the 2019 rule are “redundant, unlawful, confusing or undermine the balance Congress struck between safeguarding conscience rights and protecting access to healthcare.”

“No one should be discriminated against because of their religious or moral beliefs, especially when they are seeking or providing care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The proposed rule strengthens protections for people with religious or moral objections while also ensuring access to care for all in keeping with the law.”

In addition to numerous lawsuits and 250,000 public comments against the 2019 “conscience rule,” Compassion & Choices submitted a letter asking to remove and replace it signed by 50 organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Human Rights Campaign and the National Hispanic Medical Association. Groups supporting the controversial 2019 rule included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Christian Legal Society.

“This is a big win for Compassion & Choices as a leader in providing patients the options they want and need in their end-of-life medical care,” said Compassion & Choices Director of Federal Affairs Anthony Hinojosa, whose team will be submitting comments to HHS in support of the new regulations.

Keep track of updates on this issue and our other federal work here.

Compassion & Choices
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