HHS rule lets health care workers refuse care that violates religious beliefs

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Individual healthcare workers as well as healthcare organizations can decline to provide care that conflicts with their religious and moral beliefs or mission under a final rule issued Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

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The rule requires that clinics and research institutions receiving federal funding from programs including Medicare and Medicaid "submit written assurances and certifications of compliance" with federal laws safeguarding conscience and religious rights.

HHS dismissed the idea that the new rule, which also will apply to those objecting to contraception and assisted suicide, will decrease access to care in already underserved communities, noting that it doesn't expand current anti-discrimination or conscience laws already on the books.

The group has dozens of stories on its website of health care providers who say they were punished due to their religious or conscience objections, including an OB-GYN whose malpracticeinsurance company said it wouldn't cover her if she refused to inseminate a lesbian and an anesthesiologist who refused to participate in an abortion and objected to referring a patient seeking one to another doctor when he refused to participate.

Counter to these critiques, Roger Severino, the director of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS, defended the rule change-put forth in a 440-page document-as a way to provide "greater diversity" in care.

Asserting that previous administrations have not done enough to protect conscience rights in the medical field, HHS under Trump created a new division to investigate such complaints within its Office for Civil Rights, which Severino heads.

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Under the rule, hospitals, universities and other facilities receiving federal money must verify they are complying with 25 federal statutes that preserve conscience and religious-freedom rights, officials said.

"This rule allows anyone from a doctor to a receptionist to entities like hospitals and pharmacies to deny a patient critical - and sometimes lifesaving - care".

Detractors of the Conscience Rule say it's extremely limiting to female patients who are seeking abortions and can't get them because it is against the physician's religious beliefs.

"Earlier this week, I took action to ensure that federal employees can take paid time off to observe religious holy days", he said. "A patient's health should always come first, and all Americans should be treated fairly when attempting to care for themselves and their loved ones".

Religious conservatives contend such protections are needed in the face of increasing state and federal mandates. "Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn't include the right to discriminate or harm others", she said. "Because again, we're fighting against hate violence as well so we have to recognize that hate speech, and laws like this are not free speech, they're against the constitution".

In the annual White House statement on the National Day of Prayer, the president also highlighted the need to protect houses of worship from attacks. How do you through those witch hunts and everything else?' You know what we do, Mike? "Medical standards, not religious beliefs, should guide medical care".

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