Although hardly perfect, the Trump administration has oftentimes proverbially advanced the pro-life ball downfield in meaningful ways. Notably, he has expanded the Mexico City Policy — which blocks U.S. taxpayer funding for overseas non-governmental organizations that perform abortions — and has moved closer towards a fuller defunding of the nation’s largest abortion mill, Planned Parenthood. This, of course, is in addition to Trump’s nomination of Federalist Society-vetted, (generally) originalist/textualist-inclined judges all across the federal judiciary — from district courts to the highest court in the land.
Now the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released over 400 pages of new federal regulations that are auspiciously entitled, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care.” Here is the full document summary, via HHS:
The United States has a long history of providing protections in health care for individuals and entities on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions. Congress has passed many such laws applicable to [HHS] and the programs or activities it funds or administers, some of which are the subject of existing HHS regulations at 45 CFR part 88. This final rule revises existing regulations to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal conscience and anti‐discrimination laws applicable to [HHS], its programs, and recipients of HHS funds, and to delegate overall enforcement and compliance responsibility to [HHS’s] Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). In addition, this final rule clarifies OCR’s authority to initiate compliance reviews, conduct investigations, supervise and coordinate compliance by [HHS] and its components, and use enforcement tools otherwise available in existing regulations to address violations and resolve complaints. In order to ensure that recipients of Federal financial assistance and other [HHS] funds comply with their legal obligations, this final rule requires certain recipients to maintain records; cooperate with OCR’s investigations, reviews, or other proceedings; and submit written assurances and certifications of compliance to [HHS]. The final rule also encourages the recipients of HHS funds to provide notice to individuals and entities about their right be free from coercion or discrimination on account of religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Perhaps the final line is the most important: If HHS funding recipients are expressly made aware of their non-discrimination legal protections based on personal convictions, that ought to be hugely beneficial for religious liberty all across the land.
Nate Madden helps summarizes the HHS regulations at Conservative Review: “A primary goal of the new regulation is to ensure that people and institutions in the medical field cannot be discriminated against by the government or others because of beliefs that bar them from taking part in or providing abortion. It also protects beliefs against contraception and ‘assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.'”
HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, which will administer the guidelines, is led by longtime conservative legal hand Roger Severino. A HHS statement released concurrent with the regulations has this statement from Severino:
[L]aws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law. 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.