HRC Blog

HHS Rescinds Bush-Era Health Care Provisions

The following is from HRC's Senior Public Policy Advocate Andrea Levario:

Today, after reviewing over 300,000 comments, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced HHS was rescinding provisions of a Bush era rule which allowed health care providers to refuse to provide any health care service or information for a religious or moral reason. In the final days of the Bush Administration, harmful regulations which could have limited LGBT patients' access to health care services were rushed through HHS. The rules stated that the religious refusal clause allowed a health care provider to refuse to assist in the performance of any service with which they have a religious or moral objection.

This blanket right to refuse posed a real threat to, and could have severely impaired, the LGBT community's ability to obtain health services. HRC had urged the Obama Administration to rescind the regulation titled, "Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law." Shortly after taking office, the Administration initiated the process to make that happen by soliciting comments on its own proposal. HHS found that the former rule was "unclear and potentially overbroad in scope."  The new rule is narrower in scope while retaining long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. In its announcement, HHS stated, "The administration strongly supports provider conscience laws that protect and support the rights of health care providers, and also recognizes and supports the rights of patients. Strong conscience laws make it clear that health care providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion.

Many of these strong conscience laws have been in existence for more than 30 years. The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process." Protecting the free exercise of one's personal religious beliefs is an important public policy goal.  No American however, should face discrimination in the healthcare system simply because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.  We extend our heartfelt thanks to Secretary Sebelius and others in the Administration for finding an appropriate balance and protecting the rights of all Americans.

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