HHS rescinds rule that allowed health care workers to deny care for religious beliefs

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has rescinded a Trump-era rule that allowed healthcare providers to refuse treating LGBTQ people because of religious beliefs.

HHS made the announcement on Thursday, Dec. 29.

“No one should be discriminated against because of their religious or moral beliefs, especially when they are seeking or providing care,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. “The proposed rule strengthens protections for people with religious or moral objections while also ensuring access to care for all in keeping with the law.”

In 2019, OCR issued a regulation that provided broad definitions, created new compliance regulations, and created a new enforcement mechanism for a number of statutes related to the conscience rights of certain federally funded health care entities and providers. The 2019 Final Rule was held unlawful by three federal district courts. In light of these court decisions, and consistent with the Biden Administration’s commitment to safeguard the rights of federal conscience and religious nondiscrimination while protecting access to care, this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to partially rescind the Department’s 2019 rule while reinforcing other processes previously in place for the handling of conscience and religious freedom complaints.

“We are grateful that HHS has taken an important step toward removing the prior rule’s explicit invitation to discriminate against pregnant people and anyone in need of gender-affirming care from the books,” said Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director for Litigation Camilla B. Taylor. “No patient– no matter their religion, sex, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation – should fear being denied care when most vulnerable.”