May 2, 2019
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. Just as OCR enforces other civil rights, the rule implements full and robust enforcement of approximately 25 provisions passed by Congress protecting longstanding conscience rights in healthcare.
The final rule fulfills President Trump’s promise to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty, a promise he made when he signed an executive order in May 2017 protecting religious liberty. In October 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance encouraging other Departments, including HHS, to implement and enforce all relevant religious freedom laws.
As a result, in January 2018, following the launch of its new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, HHS announced the proposed conscience rule. OCR received over 242,000 public comments, and analyzed and carefully considered all comments submitted from the public on the proposed conscience regulation before finalizing it.
This final rule replaces a 2011 rule that has proven inadequate, and ensures that HHS implements the full set of tools appropriate for enforcing the conscience protections passed by Congress. These federal laws protect providers, individuals, and other health care entities from having 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.
The final rule clarifies what covered entities need to do to comply with applicable conscience provisions and requires applicants for HHS federal financial assistance to provide assurances and certifications of compliance. The rule also specifies compliance obligations for covered entities, including cooperation with OCR, maintenance of records, reporting, and non-retaliation requirements.
“Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “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,” Severino concluded.
Click here to read the Final Conscience Rule.
Click here to read the Final Conscience Rule Factsheet.
Updated July 2019: Click here to read the Stipulations and Orders.
Updated November 2019: Conscience Rule Vacated.