The Trump Administration has announced an expansion of the Conscience Rule, allowing medical professionals to refuse providing or payment of services should professionals choose. The US Department of Health and Human Services has expanded upon its rule within the Protecting Statuary Conscience Rights in Health Care policy. The rule specifies that clinicians and institutions do not have to provide, participate in, pay for, cover or make referrals for procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds. Additionally, the rule provides protections involving advance directives that detail a patient’s wishes for care at the end of life. According to HHS the rule mandates that hospitals, clinics, universities and other institutions that receive federal funding  comply with such rules. While this expansion is not a creation of a new law, the rule guarantees and mandates that the law and protections will be enforced.

Rules like this one will pave the way for discrimination for countless demographics. The expansion of this rule undermines access to care for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The oath taken by medical professionals instils a commitment to providing safe healthcare with no discrimination.  Permitting such allowances puts the previously mentioned groups in harm’s way.  Residents of rural areas will also be affected. Many rural area medical facilities are religious hospitals which prohibit procedures deemed “intrinsically immoral”. These  procedures include abortion, preventative care for HIV or AIDS, providing naloxone, sterilization, contraception and assisted suicide, in addition to treating people of the LGBTQ+ community, all of which would fall into the category of “intrinsically immoral.”

Such a regulations ensure facilities comply by holding necessary funding ransom.  If a provider decides not to comply with the conscience regulations, they face losing federal funding. The Office for Civil Right’s Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will oversee complaints of violated rights

While this expansion is focused on protecting the rights of the providers, it ignores the rights of patients based on moral belief, regardless of medical necessity. A major portion of Trump’s base, religious conservatives, find the conscience rule is key in protecting their rights. It can be assumed that this rule expansion was created to directly connect with his base amid similar court cases and the 2020 election. A person’s belief should in no way determine the services a patient should receive.  By allowing this expansion of the conscience rule the Trump Administration is permitting the discrimination and harm of patients with impunity.

In addition to civil liberty organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, other opponents like San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera have all promised to fight and bring lawsuits against the expansion of the Conscience Rule,  citing that the expansion will reduce access by vulnerable groups to critical healthcare.

Engagement Resources:

  • American Civil Liberties Union : A national organization working to defend civil liberties across the United States.
  • The National Women’s Law Center : A non-profit that advocates for women’s rights through litigation and policy initiatives.
  • Planned Parenthood : Reproductive rights advocacy group that provides affordable and accessible health services to women across the US.
  • Human Rights Campaign : America’s largest civil rights organization, working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality.
  • Lambda Legal : A national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBT community as well as those living with HIV/AIDS through litigation, societal education, and public policy work.

Photo by Aaron Burden

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