Thursday, December 18, 2008

HHS Issues New Conscience Regs

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued final regulations protecting healthcare workers from being forced to perform or assist in abortions against their conscience. The full text of the regulations are available here.

The Center for Law & Religious Freedom filed comments on the proposed rules in September on behalf of the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants. The Center's comments pointed out that the proposed rule did not add any additional obligations to employers but merely required them to certify that they complied with federal conscience protections with which they have been required by law to comply for decades. A previous post on the Center's comment is available here.

Despite the fact that the regulations impose no new legal obligations on federal grantees, the Center's comment pointed out that the State of California, Planned Parenthood of California, the California Medical Association, and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association had all evidenced ignorance of existing federal laws protecting the conscience rights of healthcare workers in two federal court cases challenging the Weldon Amendment. In both of those cases, California v. United States, and National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association v. Gonzales, the Center for Law and Religious Freedom served as counsel for intervening pro-life medical groups defending the Weldon Amendment. The federal courts sided with the Center and the medical groups in both cases.

The new rule will take effect 30 days from tomorrow, Dec. 19. It will require federal grantees to specifically certify that they comply with the Church Amendment, Coats-Snowe Amendment to the Public Health Services Act, and the Weldon Amendment.