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HHS Announces Final Conscience Rule Protecting Health Care Entities and Individuals

"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today the issuance of the final conscience rule that protects individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs."(1)

The final rule fulfills President Donald J. Trump's May 2017 executive order to protect religious liberty. In January 2018, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division was created and the HHS proposed the new rule. Following over 242,000 public comments, the OCR finalized the new rule.

The new rule will replace the 2011 rule. The new rule will ensure HHS properly implements all tools needed to enforce conscience protection as set forth by Congress. These federal laws will provide protection for providers, individuals, and health care entities from needing to "provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide. It also includes conscience protections with respect to advance directives."(2)

Covered entities have clarification pertaining to what organizations must do to comply with conscious provisions, and does require applicants from "HHS federal financial assistance to provide assurances and certifications of compliance."(3) In cooperation with OCR, the rule does provide specific compliance obligations for covered entities, maintenance of records, reporting, and non-retaliation requirements.

OCR Director Roger Severno states; "Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law. This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won't be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it's the law,"(4)

Read the official statement from HHS here.