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Tipsheet

Biden Admin. Doubles Down on Pro-Abortion, Pro-Transgender Policies as It Looks to Get Rid of Conscience Rule

Greg Nash/Pool via AP

In case anyone needs reminding of how pro-abortion and how pro-transgender the Biden administration is, it came last week. The Department of Health & Human Services confirmed to POLITICO they are doing away with a rule from the Trump administration that was never implemented but would have enforced conscience protections for those who have religious or moral objections to procedures such as those to do with abortion or transgender surgeries. 

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A spokesperson for HHS confirmed to the outlet that "HHS has made clear through the unified regulatory agenda that we are in the rulemaking process." 

The report also noted that "The planned rescission is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget, which is often the final step before a proposed regulation goes public."

It's worth pointing out the existence of the Church amendments, which the POLITICO report does not. The amendments were almost unanimously passed by Congress in the 1970s. Whether or not they will be enforced relies on the whim of HHS, however.

The 2019 rule would have given teeth to HHS' ability to enforce these protections for providers, by penalizing hospitals and practices that retaliated against those who claimed conscience protections. 

The HHS website's section on "Conscience and Religious Freedom" still notes the following:

You may file a complaint under the Federal Health Care Provider Conscience Protection Statutes if you believe you have experienced discrimination because you:

  • Objected to, participated in, or refused to participate in specific medical procedures, including abortion and sterilization, and related training and research activities

  • Were coerced into performing procedures that are against your religious or moral beliefs

  • Refused to provide health care items or services for the purpose of causing, or assisting in causing, the death of an individual, such as by assisted suicide or euthanasia

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The website also makes reference to the Church amendments. 

Those concerned include Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a doctor who was an obstetric anesthesiologist and co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. 

"Once again, this Administration is making clear that protecting the existing legal rights of healthcare providers is not as important as cementing their radical pro-abortion policy agenda. This is just one more reason that we must work to enact my bill, the Conscience Protection Act, which would allow those who object to participating in certain procedures under moral or religious grounds to directly sue their employer if the government agency charged with protecting their rights fails to do so - like we saw last year with the Vermont Medical Center case," Rep. Harris told Townhall in a statement. 

Despite what the website may say now, though, it seems the Biden administration can't be bothered to protect conscience rights. One such example to prove such a point came last August out of the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), as I covered at the time

UVMMC was found to be in violation of the Church amendments, after a nurse was forced to assist in an elective abortion in 2017, which she was initially made to believe was a follow-up procedure to a miscarriage. The nurse followed a lawsuit with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS in 2018.

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President Joe Biden's Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped the lawsuit, however. 

Rep. Harris signed onto a letter co-led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that was addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Not including the signatures of over 80 lawmakers from both chambers, the letter is four pages long in length and asks several detailed questions. 

The letter was sent on August 11, but lawmakers did not receive a response until November 4. The letter from Sec. Becerra is a mere three paragraphs long and simply summarizes the facts.

"As you are aware, HHS recently took steps related to an administrative complaint which originated in May 2018, which alleged a possible Church Amendments violation. The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice on July 30, 2021. That same day, letters were sent to the complainant and the Medical Center advising them of a withdrawal of the August 2019 notice of violation. These letters made clear, however, that HHS would “continue to evaluate the underlying complaint,”" the letter read in part.

"Thank you again for your letter. HHS remains committed to the enforcement of all its legal authorities, including statutes which protect the exercise of conscience and religious freedom, and we appreciate having the benefit of your views on this matter," the letter's closing read in part.

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Rep. Harris also addressed the issue with Sec. Becerra during an exchange in a Congressional hearing last month over the HHS budget request for the Fiscal Year 2023. 

The congressman brought up how Becerra is requesting that the OCR be funded and then "just using those funds to urge the Department of Justice to dismiss a blatant violation of the Church amendment." 

Harris reminded, though, that these conscience protections are not merely needed because of abortion. "I will tell you, in an age, I'm worried not only about abortions, in an age where a Supreme Court justice... doesn't know the definition of the word 'woman' and health care providers are going to be asked to perform gender mutilation surgery, because, according to some people's conscience, that's what it is." 

Harris emphasized he is "greatly concerned about conscience protection," adding "I question why we're funding a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in a department that is willing to use that against the conscience protections of Americans as the University of Vermont lawsuit, dropping that lawsuit, showed. 

Rep. Harris re-introduced the Conscience Protection Act last November. A press release from his office noted that "The Conscience Protection Act would among other provisions provide a private right of action for employees to defend their conscience rights in court by suing their employer if punished or terminated for registering moral or religious objections."

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Conscience protections are popular with Americans. According to a poll released in January from Marist/Knights of Columbus, 75 percent of respondents said such professionals with religious objections "should not be legally required to perform abortions." This includes 65 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of pro-choicers.

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