The Biden administration is rolling back much of Trump’s “conscience” rule for health care workers

The Biden administration will largely roll back a Trump-era rule that increased the rights of medical professionals to refuse to perform abortions or other services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs.

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

The health care conscience protection statute represents an attempt by Congress to strike a balance between maintaining access to health care and respecting religious beliefs and moral convictions, the Department of Health and Human Services said in the rule.

“Some doctors, nurses and hospitals, for example, object on religious or moral grounds to providing or referring to abortions or assisted suicide, among other procedures. Respecting such objections honors freedom and human dignity,” HHS said.

But at the same time, HHS said that “patients also have rights and health care needs, sometimes urgent ones. The Department will continue to respect the balance struck by Congress, work to ensure people understand their conscience rights, and enforce the law.

The move comes after many Republican-led states enacted abortion bans following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. A growing number of states are also imposing restrictions or bans on gender confirmation of minors in care.

There are federal laws that allow health care providers to deny care in certain circumstances based on their religious beliefs. The Trump administration’s rule would dramatically expand how those laws are interpreted and applied.

Critics said it would encourage healthcare professionals to discriminate against women, minorities and underserved communities, LGBTQI+ people and people with disabilities.

“Protecting conscience rights and ensuring access to health care are extremely important, no matter who you are, where you live, who you love, or your faith and conscience. Our office has statutory mandates to protect people across the country, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” said Melanie Fontes Reiner, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

“We are proud of today’s rule, which improves conscience protections, access to health care, and puts our health care system on notice that we will enforce the law. As a law enforcement agency, we are committed to this work,” Fontes Reiner added.

The Trump administration’s 2019 rule was blocked by three federal courts and never went into effect after several states, cities and advocacy groups — including New York, California, San Francisco, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned parentage – sued.

The rule would allow doctors, nurses, medical students, pharmacists and other health care workers to refuse to provide any procedure they object to, including abortions, contraception, gender-affirming care, and HIV and STD services.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of America, applauded the final policy in a statement.

“It is vitally important that everyone has all the relevant information they need to make informed decisions about their health and families and access the health services they need. Today’s action by the Biden-Harris administration is an important step in that direction,” McGill Johnson said.

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