Trump’s HHS may further expand conscience protections for health workers

conscience protections

The Trump Administration is moving forward with its plans to expand conscience protections for medical workers at risk of being forced to commit abortions, or other acts that violate their conscience. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to release the final version of a rule that aims to expand on the types of issues that qualify as violations of religious or conscience rights.

Last year, a new division was added under HHS in order to protect doctors and nurses who know killing a preborn child is wrong. The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division caused controversy; however, according to Roll Call, in its first year, the division received 348 complaints about religious and moral discrimination. During the entire eight years that Barack Obama was president, there were just 10 similar complaints.

“The word has gotten out that we’re open for business and we are going to take the laws that we enforce seriously,” Roger Severino, director for the HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR), told Roll Call. “There’s a real issue out here where people feel their rights have been violated and that they need redress and I think that explains the big growth in the number of complaints. It’s been long overdue that they need attention.”

READ: Trump HHS announces plan to protect conscience rights of health care workers

To date, the division has resolved two cases regarding religious and moral conscience complaints. One involved a California law that required pregnancy centers to offer clients information on abortion. It was struck down by the Supreme Court. The other was regarding a similar law in Hawaii which the OCR blocked in March.

According to Severino, abortion-related moral and religious conscience cases are on the rise. He is keeping a close eye on the issue of medical personnel who have been told to commit abortions, as well as medical students who do not want to be trained in committing abortions. “We’ve seen deals with hospitals trying to bully nurses or doctors into performing or assisting in abortions against their will and in violation of federal law,” he explained.

Another concern is medical professionals who do not want to be involved with physician-assisted suicide. The need for conscience protections is growing as more states legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. “There are many, many issues that are covered that Congress has granted exceptions for,” said Severino. “Part of the rule-making is to provide additional clarity on those points so people know what their rights are and know what their obligations are.”

The new rule will clarify exactly which issues deserve conscience protections.

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