Protesters Rally Against HHS Proposal on ‘Conscience’ Rules
The Department of Health and Human Services should not be letting healthcare providers impose their moral or religious beliefs on patients, speakers said Tuesday at a rally to protest a proposed regulation on the subject.
Rally attendees stood behind cardboard boxes of comments opposing the regulation. “We collected over 200,000 comments — and counting — to demand that patient care should always come first, no matter what,” said YumHee Park, manager of campaign and digital strategies at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
The rule would strengthen enforcement of laws already on the books that allow providers to refuse to provide certain types of care based on moral or religious objections, and to decline to give patients options for alternative ways to get healthcare. “With this proposed regulation, the Department seeks to more effectively and comprehensively enforce Federal health care conscience and associated anti-discrimination laws,” HHS said in the introduction to the proposed rule, which was published Jan. 26. A public comment period expires Tuesday.
The proposed rule would let HHS defend certain moral objections by healthcare providers more vigorously, including those involving the following:
- Abortion and sterilization, including related training, referrals, and accreditation standards
- Assisted suicide
- Counseling and referral for certain services in Medicaid or Medicare Advantage
- Performance of advanced directives
Enforcing these provisions will result in patients being unfairly denied care, rally participants said. “We’ve heard from women who are denied coverage for contraception that they need, and from women who are denied coverage for maternity care,” said Kelli Garcia, director of reproductive justice initiatives at the NWLC. “We’ve heard from doctors who aren’t allowed to provide the best care to their patients because the hospital they work at has an objection to providing that care.”
“That is the job of the [HHS Office for Civil Rights] — to protect people from discrimination,” said Garcia. “It should ensure when you go to hospital you won’t be harassed, you won’t be assaulted. This proposed rule … making it easier for patients to be denied care is unacceptable, and we aren’t going to stand for it.”
Susan Inman, chief counsel for federal policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization supporting abortion rights, characterized the proposed rule as “a solution in search of a problem,” noting that the HHS Office for Civil Rights had received 10 complaints in 8 years related to conscience rules not being honored.
And, while advocates of the rule pointed out that after President Trump’s election, they received 34 complaints in a little over a year, “in the same 1-year period, this same office received over 30,000 civil rights and HIPAA [health privacy] complaints,” Inman said. “That is what this department should be focusing on.”
Furthermore, HHS’s plan for enforcing these rules is problematic, Inman continued. “What about emergencies? What about medical ethics? What about informed consent? What about ‘do no harm’? Is denying patients information about their medical options really doing no harm?”
Some religious groups also objected to the proposed rule. “We resoundingly reject [the idea] that religion can be used as a tool for discrimination,” said Glenn Northern, domestic program director of Catholics for Choice, an organization for Catholics who support abortion rights. “It never gives you a right to impose your beliefs on someone else. It’s time to end the misuse of religion in our name.”
In addition to Tuesday’s rally, 18 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), also sent a letter to HHS objecting to the proposed rule. “The breadth of the proposed rule… has implications for those providing services and information in a wide range of areas including HIV, drug addiction, infertility, vaccinations, psychology, sexually transmitted infections, and end-of-life care, among others,” the letter stated.
“For example, an oncologist working in a federally funded prostate cancer treatment program could withhold information from a patient about the option of extracting and freezing sperm before cancer treatment. The proposed rule dangerously stands in the way of the information patients need to make health care decisions for themselves and their families.”
This article was originally published by MedPage Today.