The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking entitled “Safeguarding the Rights of Conscience as Protected by Federal Statutes” on December 29, 2022. The proposed rule would partially rescind a Trump-era OCR regulation, which never went into effect because three federal courts previously found the regulation unlawful.
The 2019 rule would have eliminated federal funding from facilities that forced workers to provide services that went against their personal moral or religious beliefs. The most common type of service that this rule targeted was abortion. Of course, abortion laws have significantly changed since 2019 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The newly proposed rule would “restore the longstanding process for the handling of conscience complaints and provide additional safeguards to protect against conscience and religious discrimination.” The rule aims to ensure that patients can depend on health systems for the services necessary to meet their often-urgent health needs while balancing providers’ rights to their beliefs. Individual beliefs do not give healthcare providers the right to discriminate, deny essential health care, or harm others.