Health Care Workers May Refuse to Perform Treatments Because of Faith-Based Reasons

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. May 2, 2019
Health Care Workers May Refuse to Perform Treatments Because of Faith-Based Reasons

​Health care employees may refuse to provide certain medical procedures, including abortion, if they have faith-based objections, according to a final rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on May 2. The rule also applies to sterilization, assisted suicide and advance directives. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are concerned the rule will result in discrimination against them, since medical workers will be allowed to decide not to treat individuals based on their gender identity.

Under the rule, a hospital that receives federal funds cannot say that a doctor or a nurse who has a religious objection to performing abortions is ineligible to practice obstetrics and gynecology because of that belief. Using alternate staff to perform the treatment would not violate the new rule and an employer can inform the public of the availability of alternate staff.

The rule lets a medical employer require its employees to inform it of any objections to performing medical treatments. We've rounded up articles from SHRM Online and other trusted news sources on the final rule.

Reaction to Rule Is Mixed

Groups concerned about religious liberty welcomed the rule, while LGBT groups criticized it. "No health care worker should ever be forced to choose between their practice or their faith," said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at The Catholic Association. "That principle is enshrined in countless laws and regulations but has been violated for far too long." Critics of the rule said it could lead to discrimination and a dearth of certain services, as health care providers may decline to offer certain procedures or treat gay or transgender individuals.

(The Washington Post)

LGBT Community Objects to Rule

Transgender individuals fear that the rule will make it easier for providers to refuse transition-related care based on religious beliefs. And they are concerned the rule will make it easier for health care providers to refuse routine care based on patients' gender identity. Transgender patients say they often face discrimination during check-ups. Studies show that 56 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals and 70 percent of transgender people report discrimination by health care providers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which issued a statement opposing the rule.


Religious Freedom Defended

The HHS department's Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said, "This rule ensures that health care 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." He added, "Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it's the law." But Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said, "This rule allows anyone from a doctor to a receptionist to entities like hospitals and pharmacies to deny a patient critical—and sometimes lifesaving—care."


Religious-Based Complaints on the Rise

HHS said that last year it received more than 1,300 complaints alleging discrimination in a health care setting due to religious beliefs or conscience issues. There were only a handful of complaints before that.

(WGME and Associated Press)

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with and Leveraging the ACA]

Conscience-Based Rules Have Been Issued on Contraceptives

HHS also has issued rules exempting certain entities from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate if their opposition is based on religious or moral grounds. The rules are likely to be challenged in court, as have been previous HHS rules on this topic.

(SHRM Online)


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