By / Mar 7

On Jan. 5, 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule that would rescind and modify much of a 2019 Trump-era rule that expanded conscience protections for healthcare providers. Following the announcement, HHS allowed 60 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. As that comment period closed Monday, HHS is obligated to respond to each of these comments before putting forward a finalized rule. The ERLC filed comments outlining our opposition to the change.

What does this rule do?

At its most basic level, this action by HHS is an attempt to overturn the wide ranging and strongly enforced conscience protections issued under the Trump administration. In 2019, President Trump issued regulations that covered all HHS laws protecting conscience. These regulations were enjoined in three federal courts before being fully implemented. That litigation is now on hold as the plaintiffs wait for President Biden’s new regulations. Because of that enjoinment, HHS is currently operating under a 2011 Obama-era rule.

The 2019 regulations covered all HHS laws protecting conscience and had clear enforcement measures. This means that HHS was required to investigate complaints, and if a violation was found, to take appropriate action. There were clear remedies spelled out for violations and also clearly defined penalties. 

Significant changes: The new rule proposed by the Biden administration makes several significant changes. First, it should be noted that this new rule maintains recognition of all the conscience protections that were mentioned in the Trump administration law. However, where the 2019 regulations required enforcement and investigation, this new regulation does not. Further, it removes definitions of discrimination and explanation, which are necessary for those who wish to lodge a complaint. 

What it means: Thus, an individual may file a complaint that their conscience rights have been violated because they were, for example, forced to participate in a sex-reassignment surgery or an abortion procedure, but the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within HHS is not required to actually act on that complaint and investigate. Further, because the definitions of discrimination have been gutted, individuals have a weaker case because they cannot point to specific ways in which they were targeted.

Why is it problematic?

The regulations were written under the guise of balancing the rights of conscience protection and those of ensuring access to “health care” (a euphemism for abortion access and SOGI procedures). 

The problem is that the new regulation does not balance so much as tilt the scales toward the preferred position of the Biden administration. If individuals have no ability to seek resolution or accommodation for a violation of their rights, then they are compelled to provide these services or leave their jobs. That is not balance.

If the Biden administration truly cares about balancing these rights (though they ought not be in tension), then it must recognize that there will be individuals and organizations who will choose not to participate in or provide the services mentioned above, even as others do. 

However, on a principle level, the actions of the Biden administration in issuing new HHS regulations overstep a fundamental limit of the authority of the government. We have long recognized as a society the rights of individuals to not violate their consciences by providing medical procedures that run afoul of historic and reasonable religious objections. Southern Baptists have rejected this sort of government coercion and spoken clearly in their resolutions, decrying the actions of a government seeking to trample the consciences of faithful Christians serving in healthcare industries.

How has the ERLC responded?

The ERLC has submitted public comments laying out these concerns with the proposed rule and urging HHS to reconsider making these changes. As the Baptist Faith and Message states, “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” It is imperative that Southern Baptists and other people of faith who work as healthcare professionals be allowed to continue serving their communities without compromising their deeply held beliefs.

The ERLC will continue to monitor these changes and look for additional opportunities to raise our concerns and advocate for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Oct 8

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the incredible gift of the Cooperative Program topping $200 million. They also talk about the HHS transgender rule that would threaten religious liberty and discuss DACA being sent back to a lower court for review. 

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  • BP: National CP giving tops $200 million for first time since 2008
  • BP: HHS transgender rule threatens doctors’ religious liberty, ERLC letter says
  • NBC News: Appeals court sends DACA case back to lower court to review new Biden rule, temporarily protecting Dreamers
  • Aaron Judge hits 62nd home run

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By / Oct 5

On Aug. 4, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule that would significantly reinterpret the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557 nondiscrimination provision by expanding the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy-related conditions. Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a nondiscrimination provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability under any federally funded health program or activity, executive agency, or entity under Title I of the ACA.

Following the announcement, HHS allowed 60 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. The ERLC submitted comments raising our concerns with the proposed rule. As that comment period closed Monday, HHS is obligated to respond to each of these comments before putting forward a finalized rule.

How has Section 1557 been interpreted historically?

During the Obama administration, new regulations expanded the scope of section 1557’s nondiscrimination policies by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and termination of pregnancy. The regulations raised a number of significant issues regarding religious liberty and freedom of conscience. For instance, physicians would be required to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children. The regulations even required medical professionals to perform abortions in violation of their deeply held convictions.

In response to these new regulations, five states and three private healthcare providers filed suit to challenge the final rules. In Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell (2016), a federal district court held that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX and that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious, while Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The court further ruled that the final rule’s failure to include religious exemptions likely violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule reversing the Obama administration’s regulations on Section 1557 and narrowing the definition of “sex.” Days after the final rule was issued, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that expanded the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” for the purposes of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This year, the Biden administration reversed the 2020 rule, then reinstated and expanded the Obama administration’s 2016 rule using the Bostock decision as a justification for its redefinition of “sex.”

Why is this change problematic?

While HHS allegedly plans to comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and all applicable court orders involving section 1557 regulations, it is unclear what this proposed rule means for religious healthcare professionals and insurance providers. Medical professionals and providers could be forced to administer or cover gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions, regardless of their objections to the treatment for religious or moral reasons. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, HHS may force that doctor to administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments.

This rule also expands the legal definition of “sex” to include “pregnancy-related conditions”—a term that prohibits discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, or lactation.” While the exact implications of this expansive terminology are still unclear, advocates are concerned that the administration could again weaponize the “termination of pregnancy” language to mandate healthcare providers and other organizations to include abortions and abortifacents in their plans. The government should never fund abortions nor force healthcare professionals to violate their dearly held pro-life convictions. Pro-life appropriations riders such as the Hyde, Weldon, and Church amendments should always be included in the annual budgetary process and strictly followed by executive agencies like HHS.

How has the ERLC responded?

The ERLC has submitted public comments laying out our concerns with the proposed rule and urging them to reconsider making these changes. This proposed rule would have deeply concerning ramifications for life, religious liberty, and the good of our neighbors if enacted. As ERLC’s Jason Thacker said when the proposed rule was introduced, “No matter how quickly our society shifts on the fundamental issues of life and human sexuality, people of faith should not be forced to participate in or promote the myth that we can create our own realities outside of God’s good design for human sexuality and flourishing,” The ERLC will continue to monitor these changes and look for additional opportunities to raise our concerns and advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / May 12

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will interpret and enforce the Affordable Care Act and Title IX’s nondiscrimination provision and expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” 

Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the nondiscrimination provision of the ACA prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability under any federally funded health program or activity, executive agency, or entity under Title I of the ACA. 

How have other administrations interpreted Section 1557?

Under the Obama administration, new regulations were issued that expanded the scope of section 1557’s nondiscrimination by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The regulations raised a number of significant religious liberty and pro-life issues. For instance, physicians would be required to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children. They even required medical professionals to perform abortions in violation of the consciences. 

In response to the issuance of these new regulations, on Aug. 23, 2016, five states and three private health care providers filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas challenging the final rules in the case Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell. The District Court held that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX, that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious when Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The District Court further ruled that the Final Rule’s failure to include religious exemptions likely violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In 2020, the Trump Administration finalized a rule reversing the Obama administration’s regulations on Section 1557, and narrowed the definition of “sex.” Days after the Trump Administration finalized their rule, in a 6-3 ruling authored by Justice Gorsuch and styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” for the purposes of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Office of Civil Rights used the Bostock decision as a justification for it’s redefinition of “sex.”

What’s next?

The HHS Office of Civil Rights could begin bringing enforcement actions based on this new interpretation of Section 1557 at any time. While the notice states that HHS will comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and all applicable court orders that have been issued in litigation involving the Section 1557 regulations, it is unclear what this means for religious healthcare providers and professionals. Medical professionals and providers who serve everyone would be forced to administer gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, HHS may force her to administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments.

The ERLC will continue promoting and defending the human dignity and religious liberty of all people and religious organizations with the Administration, on Capitol Hill, and throughout the public square.

By / Mar 25

A right unenforced is hardly a right at all. Federal law, through the Weldon Amendment and other provisions, has long protected the conscience rights of all Americans. And yet, because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under previous administrations refused to enforce the Weldon Amendment in several cases involving medical professionals, these Americans are left without a remedy to defend their right. Thankfully, HHS rules and enforcement by the Trump Administration clarified these rights in certain cases.

Current federal law prohibits the coercion of those with religious and moral objections to abortion into participating in or funding abortion services. The Church Amendment of 1973 states that hospitals or individuals who receive federal funds will not be required to participate in abortion. The Hyde Amendment prohibits government appropriations from being used to fund abortion or health benefits that cover of abortion. And the Weldon Amendment prohibits appropriations to the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education to be made available to any governmental entity that discriminates, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” The bipartisan consensus on the compromise between abortion and conscience rights has held for decades. As a specific example, both the Hyde and Weldon amendments have been attached to every appropriations bill passed through Congress and signed into law at the White House since 2004.

In the face of all these protections, numerous state governments and entities receiving federal funds are violating federal law. In 2009, nurse Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was forced by her superiors to assist in the dismemberment abortion of a 22-week old baby. When she objected, she was threatened with the loss of her job. Mount Sinai, a recipient of millions in federal funding for research, violated the Church Amendment, a related conscience protection, by coercing nurse DeCarlo to participate in the abortion. Another example of abuse, among many others, happened in 2011 when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services was denied an HHS grant renewal for serving survivors of human trafficking. HHS, in blatant violation of both the Hyde and Weldon amendments, denied this grant because USCCB would not commit to referring their survivor clients to healthcare providers that covered abortion.

During the Obama Administration, HHS failed to defend those like Nurse DeCarlo and USCCB, leaving them without a remedy. This is especially problematic considering that in USCCB’s case, HHS was the alleged violator. Protecting the right to live according to one’s own deeply held beliefs is too important to leave to political discretion.

The Conscience Protection Act would provide conscience abuse victims the ability to defend their rights with tailored legal remedies. Healthcare professionals need a stated and reasonable legal remedy to defend their freedom of conscience when infringed upon by a superior. Currently, the only enforcement mechanism should HHS honor a conscience abuse complaint is to eliminate federal funding to the state government or entity in question because Church, Hyde, and Weldon are “limitation of funds” riders. The elimination of federal funds to an entire state is an unreasonable, and therefore not used, response. This is why new congressional action for conscience protection is important even during a presidential administration friendly to conscience freedom claims.

The ERLC is committed to this policy because it touches two of our most closely held convictions. Protecting the consciences of our neighbors is an exercise in religious liberty. Protecting healthcare workers from the coercive on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility. Protecting the conscience freedom of pro-life healthcare professionals is one of the ERLC’s top legislative priorities.

The ERLC urges Congress to support the Conscience Protection Act of 2021. 

By / Mar 1

This week, the U.S. Senate Committees on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and Finance held hearings on the nomination of Xavier Becerra for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Becerra is among President Joe Biden’s most controversial cabinet nominees, drawing significant opposition from pro-life Americans and religious liberty advocates.

Who is Xavier Becerra?

Currently, he serves as the attorney general of California, succeeding Kamala Harris after she was elected to the United States Senate in 2016. Prior to his appointment as attorney general, he served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

What is Becerra’s history regarding life and religious liberty issues?

As attorney general, Becerra targeted pregnancy resource centers, pro-life policies, and Catholic charities with a range of lawsuits challenging their religious liberty and conscience rights.

In a 2018 Supreme Court case titled National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, Becerra threatened to shut down pregnancy resource centers serving women and children in crisis. The conflict arose after California passed a law requiring pro-life centers to publicize abortion services provided by the state or face exorbitant fines that would likely run them out of business. Forcing pro-life pregnancy resource centers to advertise for abortions is antithetical to their mission. Thankfully, NIFLA won in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court.

In possibly his most infamous pursuit, Becerra filed suit to strip conscience protections for religious organizations, such as the Catholic charity, Little Sisters of the Poor. The suit was an attempt to force them to violate their consciences by providing coverage of contraception and abortifacients to employees. The Little Sisters of the Poor have appeared before the Supreme Court multiple times, repeatedly asking for, and consistently winning, a religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate from the Affordable Care Act and resulting HHS regulations.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Becerra voted regularly against life-protecting and life-saving bills, including voting against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He also voted against the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which would have prevented the federal government from denying federal funds to Catholic hospitals and other facilities that refuse to perform abortions. Additionally, he opposed investigating Planned Parenthood’s sale of “fetal tissue” leftover from abortion procedures. 

In December 2020, when then President-elect Biden announced Becerra’s nomination for HHS, ERLC president Russell Moore said

“I expect that, as he undergoes the process of the Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent, senators will ask Xavier Becerra about his troubling hostility to pregnancy resource centers and other faith-based institutions during his tenure as California attorney general, and whether such actions would characterize his potential leadership at HHS. The country desperately needs an HHS Department that can help unify and mobilize, not one that will further divide us. The new HHS secretary, a position that is crucially important but never more so than during a global pandemic, should have the coronavirus as enemy number one, not Americans with differing religious convictions.”

What happened at the Senate hearings this week?

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) opened the hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions by highlighting Becarra’s experience as a congressman and as California’s attorney general. Democratic Senators tended to ask questions regarding Becerra’s commitment to healthcare access, high drug prices, and the vaccine rollout. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans raised concerns over rural healthcare funding, excessive government regulations, and abortion. 

Abortion was first brought up in Sen. Mike Braun’s (R-Ind.) opening question. Noting Becerra’s liberal history on the subject, Braun asked if he would commit to “not using taxpayer money to fund abortions and abortion providers.” Becerra largely dodged the question and said that he is “committed to following the law regarding federal resources,” which leaves the door open for taxpayer funded abortions should the Hyde Amendment be repealed — as congressional Democrats have signaled they will try to do this year. The Indiana Senator also mentioned Becerra’s antipathy toward religious liberty, specifically his actions against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Sen. Romney (R-Utah) also addressed abortion by pressing Becerra to explain his vote against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Becerra responded that he understands that people have deeply held beliefs and that he was sure they could find some “common ground.” However, Romney made it clear that while common ground is possible on many issues, it isn’t on partial-birth abortion. 

In the Senate Finance Committee hearing the next day, Becerra’s stances on abortion and religious liberty were questioned again by Republican lawmakers. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) began by stating that Becerra sued the federal government over 100 times as California’s attorney general — including multiple instances regarding conscience protections. In light of these lawsuits, Lankford asked if Becerra would “continue to enforce existing federal law on conscience issues” that he had argued against all the way to the Supreme Court. Lankford further pressed Becerra, asking whether or not faith-based entities would receive grants or aid “at the same level as non-faith based entities.” Becerra struggled to respond and pivoted towards a general response that he would uphold the laws as written. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said that he has serious concerns regarding Becerra’s “extreme” stance on both abortion and religious liberty. He asked Becerra if he could name “one abortion restriction he might support.” Once again, he responded with his increasingly common refrain that he would simply “follow the law.” 

After a brief recess, Becerra failed to answer any more substantively when Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pressed him on enforcing Obamacare’s contraception mandate and accused him of “bullying” the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC joined more than 60 pro-life organizations to send a Congressional letter highlighting concerns with Becerra’s nomination. Additionally, the ERLC submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on the cases which Becerra antagonized the Little Sisters of the Poor and NIFLA.

What’s next?

If he passes both committee votes, Becerra will receive a floor vote and would need 50 votes to be confirmed. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) identifies as pro-life and has previously voted in favor of pro-life pieces of legislation such as the Born-Alive bill and the Pain Capable bill. It’s unclear whether Manchin will raise concerns about Becerra’s troubling pro-abortion track record. The ERLC will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and defend the lives of the unborn and the vulnerable.

By / Jan 9

This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule that would ensure that a broad array of child welfare providers will be able to serve vulnerable children while living out their deeply held religious beliefs. The finalization of this rule is welcome news and will protect these providers’ freedom to serve. This issue has been a top priority for the ERLC the last two years. 

HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison said of the rule, “The HHS grants regulation furthers the Department’s commitment to deregulation, protects the free exercise of religion, and relieves burdens on faith-based organizations seeking HHS support for their important work, especially as we seek to maximize opportunities for children to be adopted by loving families.”

When this rule was proposed, Russell Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the regulation merely ensures that no one is kept from serving, while ending an attempt to stop religious organizations from doing so consistent with their convictions. It’s a welcome statement that the child-welfare system is about the welfare of children—not proxy culture wars.”

Unfortunately, there are ongoing attempts to bar faith-based organizations that hold traditional, orthodox beliefs about marriage from serving vulnerable children. In 2019, the attorney general of Michigan cancelled a contract for foster care and adoption services with St. Vincent Catholic Charities citing a federal rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2018, Philadelphia barred Catholic Social Services from placing children in homes unless it changed its teaching on marriage. 

Child welfare providers in both states have sued, arguing that their religious freedom rights prevent the state from excluding them from the child welfare system. Indeed, the Supreme Court is considering the Philadelphia case this term, and the ERLC is hopeful the Court will issue a strong opinion that upholds these child welfare providers’ right to serve. 

The final HHS rule is available online.

By / Dec 10

Southern Baptists affirm adoption as a central theological theme for our communities. We adopt because we ourselves were adopted through Christ into the family of God. A recent resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention stated this aspiration, “We pray what God is doing in creating an adoption culture in so many churches and families can point us to a gospel oneness that is determined not by ‘the flesh,’ or race, or economics, or cultural sameness but by the Spirit, unity, and peace in Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately, there are ongoing attempts to bar from child-welfare programs faithbased organizations that believe marriage is between a man and woman. In 2018, Philadelphia barred Catholic Social Services from placing children in homes unless it changed its teaching on marriage. In 2019, the Attorney General of Michigan cancelled a contract for foster-care and adoption services with St. Vincent Catholic Charities citing a federal rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The cited rule was set in place in January 2017 as a last-minute attempt by the Obama Administration to redefine federal nondiscrimination policies in a way that excluded many faith-based groups.

The Trump Administration proposed an HHS regulation that will help ensure the child welfare system remains about the welfare of children. The rule was proposed in November 2019 to bring the department’s regulations back in line with all other federal nondiscrimination law and Supreme Court precedent. The plight of over 435,000 children in foster care and 115,000 waiting to be adopted in the U.S. warrants a resounding call to make available as many safe and loving homes as possible.

This rule ensures no one is prevented from serving on the basis of their sincerely held beliefs. The previous Administration’s rule, like the laws in several cities and states, actually decreased the number of providers serving children. When faith-based providers are pushed out, the rate of youth aging out of foster-care without being adopted trends up as happened in Massachusetts, and the number of foster homes available plummets as happened in Illinois.

Christians are among the most motivated in American life to open their homes to children in need. Faith-based agencies should not be barred from providing foster-care and adoption services because of their theological convictions. The HHS rule change is an important start in the right direction.

By / Nov 8

On Nov. 6,  in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Paul Engelmayer struck down an HHS rule titled, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority.” The HHS rule provided conscience protections for medical professionals that object to performing procedures or writing prescriptions that violate their sincerely held moral or religious beliefs. For example, the HHS rule seeks to ensure that medical professionals who object on moral or religious grounds to performing abortions are protected from professional retaliation, as happened recently in Vermont. The plaintiffs in the consolidated cases represented before the district court argued that the HHS rule was discriminatory and restricted medical care in an unconstitutional manner.

In his 147-page opinion on the case, Engelmayer takes aim at the “conscience provisions” in the HHS rule. In particular, he cites section 706(2)(A) of the Administrative Procedure Act, which instructs courts to “invalidate any agency action found to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” In this case, the agency is HHS and the action is the implementation of a rule that the court does not believe that HHS has the authority to make. 

Engelmayer makes this clear in his opinion, writing, “For purposes of these Conscience Provisions, HHS lacked the authority to define the statutory terms addressed by the Rule (“discriminate or discrimination,” “assist in the performance,” “health care entity,” and “referral or refer for”) or to promulgate the assurance and certification requirements, as each of these was an act of substantive rulemaking.” The opinion goes further, claiming that the HHS rule “conflicts with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1972 to prescribe a framework governing the circumstances under which an employer must accommodate an employee’s religion-based objections; and (2) in its application to emergencies, it conflicts with the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.” 

Essentially, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York believes that the HHS rule was promulgated in an unjustifiable manner that violated the Administrative Procedure Acts, the Civil Rights Act, and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, while purportedly ignoring the U.S. Constitution’s article on the Separation of Powers and the Spending Clause. The result of Engelmayer’s decision vacates the HHS rule in its entirety. 

Christians must not be indifferent to matters regarding freedom of conscience because the conscience belongs to God alone.

When the rule was originally introduced, Roger Severino, the director of the HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, argued that “this rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won't be bullied out of the healthcare field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.” Others like Dr. Regina Frost, who practices medicine in New York and leads a “network of female healthcare professionals called Women Physicians in Christ,” welcomed the HHS rule, which aimed to protect doctors in states that refused to comply with the HHS rule. 

With the rule vacated and HHS’ next legal steps pending, doctors in states that sued HHS are now at risk for obeying their consciences. Engelmayer’s decision, which claims to strike down the HHS rule partially because of it being discriminatory, has now discriminated against the medical professionals who cannot, for moral or religious reasons, perform abortions or gender-reassignment surgeries. 

While the decision to not protect the consciences of medical professionals will almost certainly be appealed or reassessed by HHS, Engelmayer’s vacating of the conscience provisions rule is a devastating blow to providers and patients alike.

HHS did not rule that no medical professionals were allowed to provide certain procedures, but rather that the freedom to abstain from such procedures in light of their constitutional rights under the First Amendment should be honored. People of faith in the medical community should not be forced to choose between their religious beliefs and providing appropriate care to their patients. Christians must not be indifferent to matters regarding freedom of conscience because the conscience belongs to God alone.

By / Jan 18

WASHINGTON, D.C, Jan. 18, 2018—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented on today’s HHS Announcement to form a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

“Health care professionals do not put their consciences in a blind trust when they pursue medical training. The Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement of this new office to safeguard conscience protection is a welcome and positive move. I am thankful that HHS recognizes how imperiled conscience rights have been in recent years in this arena and is actively working and leading to turn the tide in the other direction. Healthcare professionals should be freed up to care for the bodies and minds of their patients not tied up by having their own consciences bound.”

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of the nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.

The announcement took place at an event at HHS headquarters from 10:30-noon ET.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.2 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.