Christian doctors continue the fight for conscience protections

Christian Medical & Dental Associations will appeal decision blocking Trump admin Conscience Rule

News Release

Becket

WASHINGTON – Religious medical professionals in New York have announced that they appealed a district court’s decision to block vital conscience protections for doctors and nurses. 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. The Trump administration has until Jan. 6 to join the appeal from the district court’s decision, which struck down one of the administration’s signature regulations.

In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Conscience Rule to better enforce longstanding, bipartisan laws that, for decades, have promised to allow religious doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals to serve patients without being required to violate their consciences. Medical professionals of all faith backgrounds and with moral objections rely on these well established protections. The Rule holds HHS funding recipients to agreements that they made under existing federal statutes to accommodate religious health professionals. But several states and abortion provider and advocacy organizations—including the State of New York and Planned Parenthood, which have long accepted HHS funds—immediately sued to avoid enforcement of their existing agreements under the Rule and to push religious healthcare professionals like Dr. Frost out of the medical profession.

“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,” said Dr. Regina Frost. “If the government forces me to violate my faith and my medical judgment to perform abortions, I’ll have no choice but to leave the profession.”

Dr. 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 in 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.

In Nov. 2019, a New York district court ruled against the Conscience Rule. Yesterday, Dr. Frost and CMDA appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The deadline for the Trump administration to appeal the district court’s decision is Jan. 6, 2020.

“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. “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.”

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish.

Beware the “Fake News” on Conscience Rights

Cutting Through the Abortion Distortion on Protections for Pro-Life Medical Professionals

American Center for Law and Justice

Francis J. Manion

You may have seen this past week headlines from a variety of news outlets loudly proclaiming the death of conscience rights: “Trump’s ‘conscience rule’ for health providers blocked by federal judge.” “Second federal judge strikes down Trump’s ‘conscience protection’ rule for health care providers.” Both the headlines and, for the most part, the stories themselves give the impression that, as usual, the independent federal judiciary has had to come to the rescue of all that is good and true by thwarting the latest attempt by “Trump” and his “religious right” henchpeople to impose their troglodyte, Taliban-esque views on Americans who just want to be treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices without interference from small-minded religious fanatics.

But it’s fake news. The decisions of the U.S. District Courts in New York and Washington addressed a set of administrative regulations – housekeeping stuff – adopted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year for how HHS wants to go about interpreting and enforcing pre-existing conscience protection laws. The laws themselves remain untouched and, as the New York court made clear, its decision leaves HHS at liberty to enforce existing conscience laws and to adopt rules governing how they go about doing that. . . [Full text]

Anti-abortion law firm says Reproductive Health Act violates federal law

State’s abortion law discriminates against employers with religious objections, complaint claims

mySuburbanLife.com

Rebecca Anzel

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ new reproductive health care law is a “blatant violation” of residents’ religious and conscience rights, pro-life law firm official Peter Breen said.

The Thomas More Society, based in Chicago, filed a complaint Oct. 21 with the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights alleging an element of the Reproductive Health Act breaches federal law.

Breen, the organization’s vice president and senior counsel, said on June 12, when Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed the statute, that his firm would mount a legal challenge. It is now asking the federal government to “prevent or halt” that law from being enforced. . . [Full text]

‘It should be treated just like every other civil right’: Top Trump health official looks to enshrine religious liberty

Washington Examiner

Kimberly Leonard

The Trump administration official who enforces civil rights protections in healthcare sees his work on religious liberty as his biggest legacy for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“There is a real problem out there of lack of respect for conscience and religious freedom that needs to be addressed and we are taking the concrete steps to finally address it,” said Roger Severino, 44, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS. “And I think this is an awakening of sorts that has opened up people’s eyes, both in the healthcare industry and beyond, that this is a right that had been under-enforced, that people were being discriminated against and felt they had nowhere to turn, and now they have somewhere to turn. And it would be a shame if that door ever closed on them again.” . . . [Full text]

Medical conscience for me, but not for thee

Promoting a one-way conscience right favouring the medical intelligentsia

National Review

Wesley J. Smith*

The New York Times has published an opinion column by cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar that decries the Trump administration’s increased enforcement of medical conscience. But he actually promotes a one-way conscience right that favors protecting the predominate ideological views of the medical intelligentsia, while forcing dissenters to sacrifice their own religious and moral beliefs. . . [Full text]

OCR Issues Notice of Violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center After It Unlawfully Forced a Nurse to Assist in Abortion

News Release
For immediate release

US Department of Health and Human Services

Contact: HHS Press Office
202-690-6343
media@hhs.gov

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is announcing that, after a thorough investigation and prolonged attempts to resolve the matter, OCR has issued a Notice of Violation letter finding that the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) violated the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. 300a-7) by forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections. OCR also found that UVMMC has discriminatory policies that assign or require employees to assist abortion procedures even after they have recorded their religious or moral objections to assisting in the performance of such abortions. OCR’s Notice of Violation letter asks UVMMC to conform its policies to the Church Amendments and take other corrective action, or face potential action by the HHS component from which UVMMC has received federal funding.

On May 9, 2018, a nurse at UVMMC filed a conscience and religious discrimination complaint with OCR against UVMMC, a medical center in Burlington, Vermont that receives HHS funds, contending that the nurse was forced to assist an abortion in violation of the nurse’s conscience rights. As part of its investigation, OCR contacted UVMMC repeatedly in a good faith effort to seek cooperation from UVMMC, but the hospital refused to conform its policies to federal conscience laws, provide all the documents requested by OCR, or produce witnesses for OCR interviews. Nevertheless, OCR interviewed multiple witnesses and gathered evidence concerning the allegations.

As a result of its investigation, OCR has specifically determined that:

  • UVMMC forced the nurse complainant to assist in an abortion against the nurse’s religious or moral objection. The nurse had expressed an objection for many years and was included in a list of objectors, but UVMMC knowingly assigned the nurse to an abortion procedure. The nurse was not told the procedure was an abortion until the nurse walked into the room, when the doctor—knowing the nurse objected to assisting in abortions—told the nurse, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse again objected, and other staff were present who could have taken the nurse’s place, but the nurse was required to assist with the abortion anyway. If the nurse had not done so, the nurse reasonably feared UVMMC would fire or report the nurse to licensing authorities.
  • OCR spoke with several other UVMMC health care personnel who, since at least the spring of 2017, have been intentionally, unnecessarily, and knowingly scheduled by UVMMC to assist with elective abortions against their religious or moral objections. Such personnel were often not told in advance that the procedures they were being assigned to assist with were abortions. Health care personnel who are coerced in that way suffer moral injury, are subjected to a crisis of conscience, and frequently experience significant emotional distress, even if they succeed in declining to assist in the procedure after the assignment is made.
  • UVMMC maintains a staffing policy that facially violates the Church Amendments because the policy admits to circumstances where UVMMC can and will force staff—on pain of adverse action or discipline—to participate in abortions against their moral or religious objections. The policy also violates UVMMC’s agreement, as a condition of receiving HHS funds, to comply with federal law, including the Church Amendments and HHS’s grants regulations.
  • Consequently, UVMMC is violating 42 U.S.C. § 300a-7(c)(1) of the Church Amendments by discriminating against health-care personnel who have religious or moral objections to abortion, and subjecting them to different terms or conditions of employment than other health-care personnel.

In the Notice of Violation, OCR asks that UVMMC notify OCR within thirty days whether UVMMC intends to work collaboratively with OCR to change its policies so it no longer requires health care personnel to participate in abortion against their religious or moral objections, and to take immediate steps to remedy the effect of its past discriminatory conduct. Otherwise, OCR indicates that it will forward the Notice to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a component of HHS that provides grant funds to UVMMC, for consideration and possible additional procedures concerning UVMMC’s receipt of federal funds.  Since October 1998, UVMMC has received—and continues to receive—grants from HRSA.  For the most recently completed three-year project period, which ended April 30, 2018, UVMMC reported that it cumulatively expended $1.6 million of federal financial assistance.

Roger Severino, Director of OCR said, “Forcing medical staff to assist in the taking of human life inflicts a moral injury on them that is not only unnecessary and wrong, it violates longstanding federal law. Our investigation has uncovered serious discrimination by UVMMC against nurses and staff who cannot, in good conscience, assist in elective abortions.”  Severino concluded, “We stand ready to assist UVMMC in changing its policies and procedures to respect conscience rights and remedy the effects of its discrimination.” 

OCR is charged with helping ensure entities come into compliance with federal laws protecting conscience and prohibiting coercion in health care, including the Church Amendments.

ACLJ Vindicates Rights of Vermont Nurse Who Was Unlawfully Forced to Participate in Abortion – HHS Threatens to Pull Medical Center Funding

American Center for Law and Justice

Reproduced with permission

Jay Sekulow*

The ACLJ applauds today’s announcement by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding a Complaint we filed on behalf of a Vermont nurse who was forced into participating in an abortion procedure against her deeply held religious beliefs.

In our Complaint, we alleged that our client, an operating room nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) in Burlington, was coerced into assisting in an abortion in 2017 even though her name was on a list of nurses who, for religious or moral reasons, were conscientiously opposed to such participation and even though other non-objecting nurses were available who could easily have taken her place.

In the more than two decades of work that ACLJ has done to defend the rights of conscience of pro-life health care workers, this is by far the most outrageous case we’ve ever seen. Our client’s most fundamental beliefs about the sanctity of life were simply brushed aside.

Worse, her superiors deliberately misled her into thinking she was assisting in a procedure following a miscarriage. But once trapped inside the OR she discovered that it was, in fact, an elective abortion and that this had been known all along by her superiors who then callously refused to relieve her. To say that she was emotionally traumatized by this event is putting it mildly.

At least four other nurses at UVMMC have confirmed that they too have been subjected to similar violations of their conscience rights. We forwarded them to OCR as part of our Complaint. And after conducting its own thorough investigation of the matter, OCR has substantiated their allegations.

In its announcement, HHS finds that UVMMC has committed violations of the federal Church Amendment – the so-called “conscience clause” – named for the late liberal Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church. The law was enacted in 1973 as a response to the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. In general, it prohibits entities that receive federal funding from discriminating against employees who refuse to perform or assist in the performance of abortions because of their moral or religious beliefs.

But, because the Church Amendment has always lacked a mechanism for enforcement by private citizens, its enforcement has depended on action taken by HHS itself. In the decades since 1973, however, such enforcement has, for all intents and purposes, been nonexistent. With today’s announcement, HHS’s Office of Civil Rights has, at long last, put teeth in a law that has lain largely dormant since its enactment.

HHS has given UVMMC 30 days to come up with a policy that will ensure that the things that happened to our client, and others like her, will not happen again. If they fail to cooperate, they lose their federal funding.

This action by HHS is an enormous step forward toward the full protection of conscience rights of all those in the health care field who recognize the sanctity of all human life. The repercussions of today’s action will be felt in every hospital and health care system in the country.

No longer should pro-life health care professionals have to fear that their values – the values of protecting, not, destroying, life – make them somehow unfit or unsuitable for the healing profession. No nurses, doctors, or other health workers should ever be deliberately trapped in a room and forced to participate in something that their employer knows those workers consider abhorrent at the core of their being.

For over two decades the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been at the forefront of advancing and defending the right of free speech and conscientious objection when it comes to the sanctity of human life. In addition to our work with legislators and public policy makers in Washington and around the country, we have also represented dozens of individuals – women and men on the front lines of the pro-life cause – who have found themselves discriminated against because of their pro-life stands. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers – we’ve gone to court for them before judges and juries from Maine to Hawaii and most points in between.

The ACLJ very much welcomes HHS’s vigorous enforcement of federal conscience rights in this case. No health care worker should be forced to abandon their career because they refuse to abandon their pro-life convictions. If you are a healthcare worker and have experienced a similar situation, please contact us at ACLJ.org/HELP.

Coalition Offended and Displeased with Recent Comments Attacking Conscience Rights

News Release

Christian Medical Association

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2019 /Standard Newswire/ — Today, a coalition of medical organizations released a public statement condemning recent statements on abortion and conscience protections made by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Osteopathic Association. The letter calls on this “Group of Six” to respect their position and represent all physician members in their public statements.

The coalition asserts in their statement to not use the “sanctity of the patient-physician relationship” as an excuse to passively ignore or actively reject the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death. Furthermore, they encouraged their primary care colleagues to recognize the inherent right to life of all human persons, regardless of age, stage of development, physical or mental ability, physical location, state of dependency or the subjective designation of “being desired.” The coalition is calling for better and more equitable healthcare for all vulnerable populations, including improved access to maternal and fetal healthcare, and improvement on social determinants of health.

The coalition is made up of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Pediatricians, Catholic Medical Association, Christian Medical Association, Coptic Medical Association, National Association of Catholic Nurses and The National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Executive Director of American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) Donna Harrison, MD, said, “The Hippocratic Oath forbids both abortion and euthanasia. Neither the Group of Six nor any other group can force a physician to violate the Hippocratic Oath on which the doctor patient covenant is founded.”

Executive Director of American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) Michelle Cretella, MD, said “Americans need to realize that the Group of Six do not represent physicians who take an oath to first do no harm in the tradition of Hippocrates. The Hippocratic Oath logically forbids the intentional killing of human life from conception to natural death. Death is not a state of health; killing is not caring. Abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are not health care.”

Chief Executive Officer of Christian Medical Association (CMA) David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics), said, “Physicians are leaving these medical professional organizations because they no longer represent their worldview. The coalition’s letter will only encourage efforts to force life-honoring professionals out of healthcare to the detriment of our healthcare system and, more importantly, our patients. Pro-life patients want a pro-life physician.”

Senior Fellow of The National Catholic Bioethics Center Marie Hilliard said, “It is important to always recognize when considering the perinatal provider-patient relationship that there are two patients whose best interest we are charged in enhancing. Abortion violates that obligation.”

President of National Association of Catholic Nurses, U.S.A. Diane Ruzicka, RN, MSN, said, “Physicians and nurses have a sacred responsibility to preserve and protect life. This was well known by the pagan Greek physician Hippocrates (430-370BC) credited with composing the Hippocratic Oath in which he stated, ‘I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.’ Translated by Michael North, National Library of Medicine, 2002.

“The natural moral law informs us that civilized societies do not kill their young.

“As a society founded on the natural moral law and Christian principles, the Bible which is the Word of God consigned to writing, reveals how precious is man:

  1. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you….’ — God to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5
     
  2. ‘Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.’ — God to Isaiah in Isaiah 49:15  
  3. Lastly, it was the unborn baby in the womb of Elizabeth who first recognized Jesus, the Savior of the world, in the womb of Mary. At six months gestation John the Baptist recognizes the newly conceived Jesus, God incarnate, the Word of God made flesh, in His mother’s womb. — Luke 1:41

“Human life is precious and of immense dignity. Physicians and nurses have a sacred duty to protect life from conception to the time of death ordained by God,” Ruzicka said.

The coalition’s full statement can be viewed here.

SOURCE Christian Medical Association

CONTACT: Margie Shealy, Margie.shealy@cmda.org, 423-844-1047

Hospitals and Health Industry in Limbo After Court Delays Implementation of “Conscience Rule”

Lexology

Duane Morris LLP

Regardless of whether organizations support or oppose the Conscience Rule, it is possible that it will become law on November 22 unless the courts and HHS move with uncharacteristic speed in a highly charged political arena.

Hospitals, health insurers and a variety of other healthcare entities do not have to be ready for a July 22 go-live date for the Trump administration’s “Conscience Rule.” Instead, the federal rule―designed to support health workers who opt out of providing patient care that violates their conscience, moral or religious beliefs―is facing such intense challenge in federal courts that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed to a stipulated request to delay the effective date until November 22, 2019. . . [Full text]

23 States Sue Feds to Block HHS “Conscience” Rule Permitting Refusal of Care

Non Profit Quarterly

Ruth McCambridge

Twenty-three states joined in a suit filed on May 21st to block a new federal regulation known as the Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care rule. Published yesterday in the Federal Register, it would give health care providers, insurers, and employers—as well as a wide range of others, such as ambulance drivers, receptionists, and customer service representatives at insurance companies—the right to refuse to provide or pay for medical services that violate their religious or moral beliefs. These services would include abortion and other reproductive services, as well as assisted suicide. Additionally, any health care provider would risk federal funding if they do not respect the right of these workers to deny service. . . [Full text]