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Conscience Rule Allows Healthcare Employees to Refuse to Provide Care Based on Religion

Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2019 6:26 am

On May 21, the Federal Register published the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) final rule protecting healthcare workers who refuse to provide care due to moral or religious beliefs.

The Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule will protect health care workers, including doctors, nurses, and schedulers, if they refuse to be involved in or offer a referral for services for medical procedures that violate their moral or religious beliefs. The rule applies to various services including birth control, abortions, sterilizations, assisted suicide, and advanced directives.  It applies to state and local governments, as well as certain individual health care professionals and entities if they receive federal funds (including hospitals, care facilities, insurance carriers, entities providing social assistance services, pharmacies, etc.).

The rule has been challenged in multiple lawsuits, including one filed in federal court in New York, which was joined by 22 other states including Hawaii.  That lawsuit alleges that the rule would have various negative impacts, including hindering the provision of emergency and medically necessary care; undermining informed consent laws requiring patients be informed of risks and alternative treatments; and drastically limiting the ability of employers to seek advance notice of their staff members’ religious or moral objections, and to plan for and accommodate such objections accordingly.

If not stayed by a federal court, the Conscience Rule will take effect on July 22.  The final rule is available here, and the HHS Fact Sheet is available here.

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