A group of 13 U.S. senators and 65 representatives urged a federal court to uphold a new religious freedom rule that protects doctors and nurses from being forced to help abort unborn babies.
Christian News Network reports the lawmakers’ amicus brief argues in favor of a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that protects health care providers from discrimination if they decline to participate in abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide because of their religious or moral beliefs.
The rule adds weight to current conscience protection laws by allowing HHS to withhold funding from entities that discriminate against pro-life medical workers.
Last year, the Planned Parenthood abortion chain and pro-abortion politicians, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, sued to block the rule, and a federal judge ruled against HHS.
Doctors in New York state are appealing the ruling, and federal lawmakers supported that appeal in their brief, filed last week.
“Consistent with that tradition, Congress has repeatedly passed legislation shielding individuals and organizations from being forced to violate their consciences by performing, participating in, or referring patients for certain procedures, including abortion, sterilization, and physician-assisted suicide,” the brief states. “… These laws recognize our society’s deep disagreement over these important issues and, consequently, aim to prevent recipients of federal funds from infringing on First Amendment conscience rights.”
They said the new rule will help ensure that entities are complying with conscience protection laws and protecting the rights of their employees.
The lawmakers also pointed out that it was U.S. Congress that originally made the determination to protect health care providers against discrimination and place the anti-discrimination conditions on federal funding. They said HHS is merely following through with these measures.
“For the last fifty years, Congress has been very clear: governmental and private entities cannot receive federal funds and discriminate against health care entities that refuse to perform or assist in the performance of particular procedures,” including abortion and assisted suicide, their brief states.
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The case is 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.”
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.
U.S. law has protected conscience rights for more than 30 years, but a lack of regulations has resulted in confusion 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 in 2019, 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 November, 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 San Francisco struck down the pro-life rule. U.S. District Judge William Alsup claimed the 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,” HHS Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said in a statement, previously. “Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law.”