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U.S. House appropriations measure blocks conscience protection rule


  • A hawk flies beside the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington July 28, 2020. The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill July 31 that blocks the conscience protection rule for health care providers. (CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters)
  • The U.S. Capitol dome is pictured April 21, 2020. The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill July 31 that blocks the conscience protection rule for health care providers. (CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An omnibus appropriations bill approved by the House July 31 to fund a dozen federal departments and agencies blocks a conscience protection rule for health care providers who do not want to participate in abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide on religious or moral grounds.
"These poison pill provisions in H.R. 7617 seek to undermine the pro-life policies of the Trump administration," said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. "Sadly, those who would suffer from the pro-abortion provisions would be women and their unborn children."
With a 217-197 vote, the House passed the Defense, Commerce, Justice, Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act of 2021.
H.R. 7617 blocks implementation and enforcement of a rule titled "Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care," issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. The rule was published in the Federal Register May 21, 2019.
It says medical workers or institutions do not have to provide, participate in or pay for procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds, such as abortion and sterilization. It was to have taken effect July 22, 2019, but enforcement was postponed because of court challenges.
On Nov. 6, 2019, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered HHS to vacate the rule, "Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care," in its entirety.
He said it exceeded the statutory authority of HHS, was "arbitrary and capricious" and was adopted "in breach" of the procedural requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
But Engelmayer also acknowledged that "conscience provisions recognize and protect undeniably important rights." His ruling, he said, "leaves HHS at liberty to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions. In the future, however, the agency must do so within the confines of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution."
The decision is currently being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

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