Proposed Rule Would Safeguard the Rights of Conscience

US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), entitled Safeguarding the Rights of Conscience as Protected by Federal Statutes, which proposes to restore the longstanding process for the handling of conscience complaints and provide additional safeguards to protect against conscience and religious discrimination.

“No one should be discriminated against because of their religious or moral beliefs, especially when they are seeking or providing care,” said Secretary Xavier Becerra. “The proposed rule strengthens protections for people with religious or moral objections while also ensuring access to care for all in keeping with the law.”

“Protecting conscience rights and enforcing the law to combat religious discrimination is critical,” said Office for Civil Rights Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “Today’s proposed rule would strengthen these protections and reinforce our long-standing process for handling such conscience and faith-based objections. It also would take steps to help ensure that individuals are aware of their rights.”

In 2019, OCR issued a regulation that provided broad definitions, created new compliance regulations, and created a new enforcement mechanism for a number of statutes related to the conscience rights of certain federally funded health care entities and providers. The 2019 Final Rule was held unlawful by three federal district courts. In light of these court decisions, and consistent with the Administration’s commitment to safeguard the rights of federal conscience and religious nondiscrimination while protecting access to care, this NPRM proposes to partially rescind the Department’s 2019 rule while reinforcing other processes previously in place for the handling of conscience and religious freedom complaints.

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Public comments on the NPRM are due 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register.

The NPRM may be viewed here: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/conscience-rule-nprm.pdf.

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