House and Senate members urged a federal court Tuesday to uphold a new conscience protection rule that protects doctors and nurses from being forced to help abort unborn babies.
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland and U.S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma led 65 House and 13 Senate lawmakers in filing an amicus brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing in favor of the rule.
The court is considering a lawsuit from New York state, led by pro-abortion Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo, challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule. The 2019 rule protects health care providers from discrimination if they refuse to participate in abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide because of their religious or moral beliefs.
The Planned Parenthood abortion chain and pro-abortion politicians sued to block the rule, and last year, a federal judge ruled against HHS.
Doctors in New York state are appealing the ruling.
In New York v. HHS, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is defending Dr. Regina Frost and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) from attempts by Planned Parenthood and New York officials to force religious doctors to perform life-ending procedures that violate their consciences.
“My faith is at the heart of who I am. It is what drives me to put the needs of women and their children first every day, and to serve everyone in my care with dignity and respect,” Frost said, previously. “If the government forces me to violate my faith and my medical judgment to perform abortions, I will have no choice but to leave the profession I love and the patients I serve.”
The U.S. lawmakers’ new amicus brief supports Frost’s case.
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Frost is an OB-GYN and one of nearly 19,000 medical professionals in CMDA serving vulnerable populations in the United States and abroad. Across the country, CMDA members serve the homeless, prisoners living with HIV, and victims of opioid addiction, sex trafficking, and gang violence. Overseas, CMDA members serve in war zones, refugee clinics, and remote areas without quality healthcare. The lawsuit by Planned Parenthood and New York needlessly threatens the health and well-being of at-risk, underserved populations across the globe. New polling shows that healthcare professionals are committed to serving all patients but are facing increasing pressures to perform certain procedures, which they believe end life and violate their faith—and these pressures could force 91 percent of religious doctors out of the medical field.
“Like an ideological Grinch stealing conscience rights, Planned Parenthood is robbing not only religious doctors and nurses but also the patients that they serve,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, when they filed the appeal. “To hear Planned Parenthood tell it, one pro-life OB-GYN is one too many. That’s wrong and it’s bad for healthcare. In a big, diverse country like ours, we can ensure that everyone will receive the care they need while still respecting the consciences of religious doctors and nurses.”
U.S. law has protected conscience rights for more than 30 years, but a lack of regulations has resulted in confusion and a lack of awareness in the healthcare community. Now, healthcare personnel are vulnerable to discrimination and some feel forced to drop their specialties at a time of healthcare scarcity.
The new regulations, issued by HHS Secretary Alex Azar, provide regulatory backbone to the First Amendment conscience rights of Americans working in the medical profession. They help ensure that no doctor or nurse will be forced to violate their conscience while serving patients.
In early November, federal Judge Paul Engelmayer invalidated the rule on multiple grounds, including a finding that it violated the Constitution’s spending clause by allowing the administration to cut off funds approved by Congress to providers who do not comply with the rule.
Later in November, another federal judge in liberal San Francisco struck down the pro-life rule. U.S. District Judge William Alsup claimed the pro-life rule is invalid because it would let ambulance drivers refuse to take a woman for an emergency abortion — even though doctors have certified that killing a baby in an abortion is never medically necessary.
The Trump administration said religious freedom is at the heart of protecting those medical professionals who don’t want to be required to be involved in abortion in some capacity.
“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,” a statement from OCR Director Roger Severino said. “Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law.
“Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” Severino said.