On December 18, 2008, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promulgated final rules protecting the conscience rights of federally funded health care providers. The HHS rule “Ensuring that Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law” would increase awareness of, clarify, and enforce compliance with already existing federal statutes protecting health provider conscience rights.
Sande said the rule is badly needed as medical provider conscience rights are under attack in legislatures across the country. “Respect for individual conscience rights is a bedrock American principle,” said Sande. “We don’t force people to take up arms who conscientiously oppose war. Why then would we force physicians, who swear an oath to do no harm, to participate in the killing of preborn children?”
Specifically, the final rule would:
clarify that nondiscrimination protections apply to institutional health care providers as well as to individual employees working for recipients of certain funds from HHS;
require recipients of certain HHS funds to certify their compliance with laws protecting provider conscience rights; and
designate the HHS Office for Civil Rights as the entity to receive complaints of discrimination addressed by the existing statutes and the regulation.
“Our nation was built on a foundation of free speech,” said Secretary Leavitt. “The first principle of free speech is protected conscience. This proposed rule is a fundamental protection for medical providers to follow theirs.”