The federal rule that allows medical workers to refuse to perform services that counter their religious or moral convictions is about to end, reportedly as early as this month.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says the policy change is ongoing. They revealed the agency is making the change “through the unified regulatory agenda,” and it comes at a time when progressive groups are stepping up their calls for the White House to defend “patient’s rights.”
The Biden administration is attempting to counter moves by Republican-controlled states that Democrats deem hostile to personal health care such as abortions and transgender treatments. Opponents say, if it were put in force, the measure would undermine medical professionals and result in discriminatory practices.
The “conscience rule,” which was finalized in 2019, has never been implemented after facing lawsuits by dozens of local and state governments as well as advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood. The multitude of suits were combined into one case, and then a federal court in Manhattan blocked the measure that same year, ruling that HHS acted “arbitrarily and capriciously.”
Proponents of the rule say it would prevent health care workers from being forced to violate their personal beliefs. Former President Trump’s HHS said the measure protected “fundamental and unalienable rights of conscious and religious liberty.” Without it, doctors and medical professionals could be compelled to act in ways contrary to their deeply-held beliefs.
President Joe Biden in his 2020 campaign made it clear that he would rescind or counter the pro-life moves of the previous administration. Many of his actions immediately on taking office were to reverse conservative policies implemented by former President Trump.
In what is sure to continue the medical controversy, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on a case that could mean the overturning of its 1973 decision legalizing abortion. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will decide the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortion after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.
As Vice President Kamala Harris revealingly said in February, elections do matter and voters “got what they asked for.” For better or for worse. And this whipsaw back and forth between administration policies is not likely to end anytime soon.