HHS Announces New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division

News Release

For immediate release

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pleased to announce the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  The announcement will take place at an event at HHS headquarters from 10:30 a.m. to noon.  It will be livestreamed here. Speakers will include Acting Secretary Eric D. Hargan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Representative Vicky Hartzler, Senator James Lankford, OCR Director Roger Severino, and special guests.

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.  OCR is the law enforcement agency within HHS that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people’s health information.  The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

OCR already has enforcement authority over federal conscience protection statutes, such as the Church, Coats-Snowe, and Weldon Amendments; Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act (on assisted suicide); and certain federal nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion in a variety of HHS programs.

OCR Director Severino said, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”

Acting HHS Secretary Hargan said, “President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom.  That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”

Contact: Office for Civil Rights
202-774-3009

arina.grossu@hhs.gov

To learn more about the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, visit us at www.hhs.gov/conscience.

To file a complaint with OCR based on a violation of civil rights, conscience or religious freedom, or health information privacy, visit us at https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/complaints.

Christian nurse sues hospital for requiring her to assist abortions

Lifesite News

Claire Chretien

DURHAM, North Carolina, November 3, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic nurse is suing Duke University Hospital, claiming that the university discriminated against her religious and pro-life beliefs by requiring her to assist in abortions.

Sara T. Pedro was told during her employee orientation that Duke University Hospital provides no exceptions to employees in its Emergency Department who don’t want to participate in abortions. The lawsuit, filed by The Thomas More Law Center on Pedro’s behalf, says that Duke’s Emergency Department performs “a large number of abortions.”

The lawsuit claims that Pedro faced retaliation and discrimination after she made a written request to be exempt from the pro-abortion policy. . . [Full text]

 

Womb with a view: surgeons remove uterus from mother in groundbreaking operation on spina bifida foetus

The Telegraph

Sarah Knapton

It might look like a glowing egg from an alien world, but this red ovoid is actually human womb containing a baby, removed from its mother before birth, in a groundbreaking operation.

Doctors in the US have been pioneering an astonishing new treatment for spina bifida in which the baby is operated on before birth. . . [Full text]

 

The ‘Uber for birth control’ expands in conservative states, opening a new front in war over contraception

Stat

Max Blau

It’s a telemedicine app that seems rather innocuous — enter your info, have it reviewed by a physician, and get a prescription. The California-based company behind it has raised millions to support its mission of expanding access to the pill, ring, or morning-after pill with minimal hurdles.

But that last option is now starting to attract pushback from anti-abortion activists, who consider the morning-after pill equivalent to abortion — and who say lax telemedicine laws are enabling access to this drug with insufficient oversight.

Nurx, an app that’s been called the “Uber for birth control,” lets patients obtain a variety of contraceptives from the touch of a smartphone; it also gives women access to Plan B and Ella, two forms of the morning-after pill, which is effective in preventing a pregnancy after sex. Women can order these drugs in a few easy steps: answer a series of health questions; provide basic demographic information; and choose a preferred drug. A doctor then reviews the patient’s information, writes a prescription, and the drug is delivered to either the patient’s home or her local pharmacy. . .  [Full text]

 

Contraceptive Coverage and the Balance Between Conscience and Access

Ronit Y. Stahl,PhD; Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, MBE

When the Obama administration included contraception in the essential benefits package to be covered by employer-sponsored health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, it sought to preserve access for women while addressing the concerns of employers with religious objections. Although the accommodations and exemptions were not enough for some employers, balance was the ultimate goal. This also was reflected in Zubik v Burwell, the Supreme Court’s most recent decision on the matter; on May 16, 2016, the justices remanded the litigants to the lower court so they could be afforded the opportunity to reach a compromise between religious exercise and seamless contraceptive coverage. No further compromise was forthcoming.

Now the Trump administration has rejected balance as a worthwhile goal.1 Its new contraceptive coverage rules, released on October 6, 2017, prioritize conscientious objection over access.2,3 The rules take effect immediately, and new legal challenges, this time on behalf of patients rather than objecting employers, have already begun.4 The new rules preserve the default requirement that employers must include free access to contraceptives as part of their insurance plans. However, the rules now exempt employers with religious or moral objections to contraceptives, without requiring any alternative approaches to ensure that beneficiaries can obtain contraceptives at no cost.2,3
[Full Text]


Stahl RY, Lynch HF. Contraceptive Coverage and the Balance Between Conscience and Access. JAMA. Published online October 19, 2017. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17086

Trump gives relief to religious Obamacare objectors

Deseret News

Hannah C. Smith

Last Friday, the Trump administration revised rules implementing the Affordable Care Act in a way that expands protections for religious and moral objectors to the contraception mandate — achieving the common-sense balance that religious organizations have sought for the past six years. These revisions allow religious nonprofits — like the Little Sisters of the Poor — to avoid millions of dollars in fines because their employee health insurance plans exclude coverage for contraception, a practice contrary to Catholic doctrine on respecting human life.

Judging by some media hyperbole, however, you would think that the federal government had just abolished the ACA’s birth control mandate altogether. Headlines that claim the federal government’s move “reverses” or “scraps” or “ends” the mandate are all wrong.. . .The vast majority of women in America will continue to receive free birth control, and religious objectors will not be forced into providing services that violate their conscience. . . [Full text]

 

Donald Trump’s new guidelines for protecting religious faith restore justice

Washington Times

Editorial

Not so long ago, President Trump’s new guidelines for the Department of Health and Human Services for protecting freedom of religious faith would have been superfluous and unnecessary. A casual observer might have read them in puzzlement, as if the government had reaffirmed its opposition to robbery or murder.

But all that was before the Obama administration sought to bring those of religious faith to heel, ordering employers to pay for contraception devices and abortion-inducing drugs, even if it violated the conscience of employers. Under pressure, the Obama administration grudgingly exempted churches from its mandate, but employers affiliated with religious groups still were required to pay through third-party administrators.

The new guidelines, drawn up by the U.S. Justice Department, change that. The order does not prohibit employers paying such benefits, and many employers will continue to do so. Nor will anyone be deprived by the government of their condoms, diaphragms and other birth-control devices. But “going forward,” as the cliche goes, an employer will not be required by the U.S. Government to violate his conscience for the convenience of those hostile to religious faith. . .[Full text]

Christian Medical Association and Freedom2Care Applaud Administration’s Actions to Protect Conscience in Healthcare

News Release

Christian Medical Association

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2017 — Today the nation’s largest association of Christian health professionals, the 18,000-member Christian Medical Association (CMA, Christian Medical Association www.cmda.org) applauded the administration’s actions to restore conscience freedoms in healthcare. The administration took action concerning the Obamacare contraceptives mandate, insurance premiums used to pay for abortions, and regarding government respect for religious freedom.

“We are thankful to see these vital conscience freedoms restored in healthcare,” noted CMA Senior Vice President Gene Rudd, MD, and Ob-Gyn physician. “For millennia, medical ethics have provided for conscientious opposition to abortion by physicians who took up the practice of medicine as a healing art never to be used for the destruction of human life. And until recently, our government reinforced those ethical principles with conscience protections. We are heartened to see our government heading back in the direction of these vital freedoms that protect patients, medicine and freedom in our country.”

Jonathan Imbody, director of Freedom2Care (www.Freedom2Care.org), which is affiliated with CMA said, “As Americans who have inherited a nation founded upon freedom of faith, conscience and speech, we can agree that the government must never force individuals to violate their deepest held beliefs on vital and extremely controversial issues such as abortion. When our leaders forget these principles, and take to forcing nuns to participate in matters they consider wholly immoral, the American people realize that our fundamental freedoms are in jeopardy. If the government can take away the rights of one group, then no one is safe from government coercion.

“These actions today by the administration are an important step back in the direction of freedom and respect for one another, and we look forward to more actions in the future, including restoration of the conscience rule for health professionals that President Obama gutted.”

Contact: Margie Shealy, Christian Medical Association, 423-341-4254

Trump Administration Rolls Back ACA Contraceptive Coverage Rule

Several organizations plan to sue over the change

Medpage Today

Joyce Frieden

WASHINGTON — Medical groups expressed disappointment in rules issued Friday by the Trump administration that rollback contraceptive coverage requirements put in place by the Obama administration.

The new rules were issued as “interim final” regulations, meaning that they will be implemented immediately. The rules allow employers to refuse to cover contraceptives for any moral or religious reason. It also no longer requires employers to allow their insurers or third-party administrators to provide separate coverage, instead calling that arrangement an “optional” accommodation.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers were required to cover all forms of contraception with no co-pay. Certain religiously affiliated employers, such as churches or religious affiliated hospitals or universities, were exempted from this rule; however, once they signed paperwork stating that they did not want to provide coverage, the employer’s insurer or third-party administrator then had to provide that same coverage, with no co-pay, to employees who needed it. . .[Full text]

 

Washington State mother sues employer for denying insurance coverage to transgender son

Lawsuit claims Catholic health care organization is breaking law by denying coverage for all transgender services

Metro Weekly

John Riley

The ACLU of Washington has filed a civil rights lawsuit against a Catholic health care organization for refusing to cover the medically necessary surgery required by a transgender son of one of their employees.

The ACLU is suing on behalf of Cheryl Enstad, a medical social worker at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash. Enstad decided to file a lawsuit after PeaceHealth refused to cover the medical expenses of her transgender son, Pax, even though the treatments that were denied were recommended to treat his gender dysphoria.

Because PeaceHealth is a Catholic health care organization, it tries to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church when it comes to issues surrounding sexual orientation or gender identity. It used that as justification for refusing to provide coverage for a recommended chest reconstruction surgery and other treatments for gender dysphoria under its medical benefits plan. . . [Full text]