KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Health care workers now have stronger religious freedoms. Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights announced the final versions of its Conscience Rule.
Under the new rule, health care workers and entities will be allowed to decline participating in certain procedures and services that violate their religious beliefs and morals without facing workplace or employment penalties.
Political science professor Matt Harris at Park Hill University reviewed a portion of the 400 plus page rule.
“There`s kind of a pendulum between the rights of patients to receive care and the rights of people who are providing that care who might have, who might object on religious grounds,” Matt Harris, Park University Assistant Professor of Political Science said.
The new rule broadly protects health care workers from doctors, to receptionists. Abortion, assisted suicide, vaccinations and sterilization are among the procedures mentioned in the rule.
Federal rules have been in place for years to protect health care providers who refuse to treat certain patients based on religious or moral views, but the new Conscience Rule has more areas of protection, and more areas of enforcement.
“It`s just a question of how broad should those protections be,” Harris said. “In the Bush and the Trump years, what we`re seeing is that their argument is that protection should be very broad. And then in the Obama years it was more narrow.”
Some, such as the Arch Bishop for the Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas support the stronger rule.
“We think this is a very wise decision, a wise move and something that’s a big benefit because there are instances in recent years where healthcare professionals have been forced to go against their conscience,” Joseph Naumann, Archbishop for the KCK Archdiocese said. “I think what the administration is saying is, ‘We`re going to apply the law, we`re going to go by the constitution, and we are going to appropriately protect conscience and religious freedom.'”
But others are fearful of the stronger conscience regulations.
CiCi Glasgow does outreach for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, which advocates for queer victims of domestic, sexual and hate violence. She’s already seen LGBT community members face discrimination in healthcare and fears the regulations will make it worse.
“They’re just going to use their personal beliefs and biases to then discriminate against someone else,” Glasgow said. ” And they’ll have paperwork to back them up. You’ll have the judicial system, the legislative system to back them up to do this. That is the biggest fear we have with doing this work. Because again, we’re fighting against hate violence as well so we have to recognize that hate speech, and laws like this are not free speech, they’re against the constitution.”
While there are different views on the conscience ruling, political scientists such as Harris say we’ll have to wait a while to see the full effects, by how the Department of HHS evaluates complaints.