FFRF opposes reckless rule at HHS

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strenuously opposing a proposed theocratic rule at the Department of Health and Human Services that will jeopardize health care.

The rule purports to enhance protections for religious-based objections by health care workers in their provision of health care. In a letter sent to the department, FFRF charges that the rule seeks to solve a problem that does not exist. Health care workers already have sufficient legal protections against being forced to perform medical procedures that violate their conscience, so long as patients are given notice and have adequate access to the care they seek.

The proposed rule provides concerningly broad definitions for which practitioners and what activities would be protected. For instance, the term “Healthcare Program or Activity” includes any “service related to health or wellness whether directly, through payments, grants, contracts, or other instruments, through insurance, or otherwise.”

Ironically, the newly created Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the Office for Civil Rights would ensure that certain civil rights violations can be carried out with impunity, so long as the violator cites a religious justification. This needlessly jeopardizes the medical needs of vulnerable patients, particularly women and LGBTQ individuals, whose rights the Office for Civil Rights is obligated to also protect. In fact, this proposed rule goes even further with its alarmingly broad language. It uses the guise of “religious freedom” to deny civil liberties and impose religious beliefs on others.

“The list of workers the division will ‘protect’ is theoretically endless: the anesthesiologist who thinks that an abortion to save the life of the pregnant woman shouldn’t be performed or an ambulance driver with the same objection; the pharmacist opposed to birth control who won’t process prescriptions or even refer to another pharmacist on site; the ER staffer who refuses rape victims the morning-after-pill; the nurse who doesn’t want to run an IV line for a transgendered patient; the physician who refuses to treat a Muslim patient; or a medical worker to won’t adhere to a patient’s end-of-life directives,” write FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “These are legitimate civil rights concerns for the patients involved, not the medical workers.”

Health care providers’ religious objections can be handled without sacrificing the availability of quality care to patients in need. The existing state of the law already favors religious objections to a fault, since access to abortions and other medically necessary care is often lacking. The proposed rule exacerbates this problem by emboldening health care providers to deny care based on their religious beliefs.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit association with more than 32,000 members nationwide. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public about issues relating to nontheism. Since 1978, FFRF has been on the forefront of combatting policies that promote discrimination under the guise of protecting religious freedom.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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