The federal government is signaling it will take more action to ensure “conscience-based” rights for health care providers. But what that means in terms of compliance risks for the hospitals that employ them remains to be seen.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will pursue complaints from physicians and other health care providers who claim they are being discriminated against for their religious or moral beliefs. HHS’ Office of Civil Rights on Jan. 19 filed a proposed rule to enforce 25 existing statutory protections that prevent health care personnel from “being coerced into participating in activities that violate their consciences, such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.”
OCR Director Roger Severino said that in recent years, the government has failed to enforce conscience protections in health care not out of a lack of authority but rather a lack of willingness.
“Conscience protection is a civil right guaranteed by laws that too often haven’t been enforced,” Severino said in an HHS press release. “[The] proposed rule will provide our new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division with enforcement tools that will make sure our conscience laws are not empty words on paper, but guarantees of justice to victims of unlawful discrimination.”