The Trump administration finalized a new rule in the Department of Health and Human services to protect the conscience rights of pro-life people and institutions in the health care field, officials announced Thursday.
The actual finalized rule is a pretty long one, totaling a whopping 440 pages in PDF form. The summary section at the top of the document states that the new rules are meant to step up the enforcement efforts of laws already passed by Congress to "ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal conscience and anti‐discrimination laws applicable to the Department, its programs, and recipients of HHS funds."
A primary goal of the new regulation is to ensure that people and institutions in the medical field cannot be discriminated against by the government or others because of beliefs that bar them from taking part in or providing abortion. It also protects beliefs against contraception and "assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing."
The enforcement of those new laws will fall to HHS' Office of Civil Rights.
"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," a statement from OCR Director Roger Severino said. "Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it's the law.
"Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law," Severino explained.
On a call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Severino went into greater detail on the scope of the rule, explaining that it's meant to be an improvement over 2011 Obama administration regulations that have proven inadequate in the years since their enactment.
As an example of people who would be protected under the new regulations, Severino reminded reporters of the story of Cathy DeCarlo, a pro-life New York nurse who was forced by her employer to take part in an abortion, despite her clear, conscientious objections to doing so.
Severino also said that the new regulations would even go as far as ensuring that pro-life medical students would not face discrimination because of their views, saying that medical specialities like gynecology and obstetrics should not be "pro-life-free zones."
The rule stems from a 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump directing his administration "to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom."
President Trump announced the new regulations during his remarks from the White House Rose Garden for the National Day of Prayer on Thursday.
"Together, we are building a culture that cherishes the dignity and worth of human life," the president said, saying that the rules would protect the conscience rights of "physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students, and faith-based charities."
"Every child born and unborn is a sacred gift from God," Trump added, to applause from the attendees.
Like other federal regulations, the new conscience rule will go into effect 60 days from its publication in the Federal Register. On the call, Severino told reporters that he expects publication to happen "very soon."