Editorial: Conscience rule for doctors just needs a rewrite

Despite what some have implied, a recent decision by a New York federal judge striking down the so-called “conscience rule” promulgated by the Trump administration is not a license to pressgang doctors and nurses into performing procedures abhorrent to their consciences — such as abortions, contraception and gender transitioning procedures.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer sided with plaintiffs, including the state of Nevada, in declaring the rule unenforceable as written, saying it was unconstitutionally coercive because it would have required the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withhold billions of dollars in funding from hospitals, clinics, universities and others that did not comply. As the judge pointed out in his ruling, “Nevada, for example, received more than $2.6 billion in federal health care funding from HHS in the 2018 federal fiscal year.”

Judge Engelmayer wrote, “The Conscience Provisions recognize and protect undeniably important rights. The Court’s decision today leaves HHS at liberty to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions.”

But he concluded, “Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it.”

It was the enforcement mechanism not the “conscience rule” that was tossed. The Trump administration needs to rewrite the rule.

It is the procedures that matter, not whether the patient is gay, lesbian, transgender or whatever.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford put out a press release about the New York ruling saying, “My office has opposed every attempt by the Trump Administration to diminish the rights and needs of Nevadans, and access to health care is no exception. Had this rule gone forward, it would have allowed individuals and entire institutions to deny lawful and medically necessary care to patients, even during emergency situations. I’m encouraged that the courts have blocked yet another attempt to implement a discriminatory rule.”

It is hard to envision an emergency abortion or gender altering procedure.

Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, which bills itself as the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans, put out a statement warning, “This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that violate their conscience. The Trump Administration’s HHS protections would ensure that healthcare professionals are free to work consistent with their religious beliefs while providing the best care to their patients.”

In fact, another federal judge, Texas U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, recently vacated an Obama-era federal regulation that would have required healthcare providers and insurers to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions even if they go against their medical judgment or violate religious convictions.

The Christian Post quoted Nick Reaves, legal counsel at Becket Law, which touts itself as being a defender of religious freedom, as saying, “Doctors shouldn’t have to choose between giving up their faith and being forced out of their profession. In a diverse and free society, we can ensure that everyone will receive needed care without punishing doctors for having a conscience.”

Yes, that should be the case. HHS just needs to quickly rewrite the rule with less onerous enforcement provisions to protect Nevada’s and the nation’s medical professionals from being forced to act against their beliefs.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, at a National Day of Prayer service in the White House Rose Garden earlier this year. Pence advocated religious exemptions for health care workers. Getty Images pix via NYT)

3 comments on “Editorial: Conscience rule for doctors just needs a rewrite

  1. Anonymous says:

    My conscious says I shouldn’t work at the times my employer says they want me to work.

    How do I get this organization to file a lawsuit for me so I can still get paid because I shouldn’t have to do what my conscious says I shouldn’t do and there sure shouldn’t be any consequences for my refusal right?

  2. Steve says:

    The sham is strong in this one.

  3. Rincon says:

    The answer is obvious. The EMPLOYER should decide what procedures will and will not be performed. No need to change any laws. Just let the employers and employees negotiate this just as they do with other procedures.

    BTW, there’s no such thing as an emergency abortion? Please consider that many mothers don’t even find out they are pregnant until well over a month into their pregnancy. Making this momentous decision also may take time. In addition, several states have enacted laws forcing pregnant women to travel hundreds of miles, so they can’t exactly run in and have it done on a lunch break from work. The remaining facilities offering this service are likely crowded such that getting an appointment with only a few days notice could easily be impractical as well. Do you think abortions performed in the second trimester are just as good as during the first? If so, then perhaps you’re right. My view is that, if it is going to be done, do it as early in the pregnancy as practical. As a matter of fact, most people advocate a limit on how late in a pregnancy an abortion can be performed.

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