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The Conscience Protection Act to Defend Rights of Health Care Providers comes as Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Xavier Becerra has been accused by conservatives of not fulfilling his promise to protect religious liberty.
“Defending the conscience rights of healthcare providers should be of great interest to all Americans, and is of grave importance to me as a physician, especially in light of recent failures to do so by the Biden Administration,” said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who introduced the bill.
“Secretary Becerra had committed to House Appropriators that he would ensure the protection of the legal rights of conscience for providers – but sadly this has not occurred. Therefore, this bill is necessary to dissuade employers from threatening or taking retaliation for actions by healthcare providers that should be, but aren’t being protected by this administration.”
Harris’ legislation contains measures designed to prevent retaliation against health care workers who don’t participate in abortions. That became an issue earlier this year when Biden’s HHS withdrew a Justice Department (DOJ) referral on a Vermont hospital allegedly forcing a nurse to participate in an abortion. He also cited the former Trump administration’s decision to withhold California Medicaid funds due to alleged violations of the Weldon Amendment.
Earlier this month, Becerra sent members of Congress a letter informing them that while that particular lawsuit was dismissed, his department told both the complainant and medical center that it would continue investigating the underlying complaint.
“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,” he said.
Fox News reported earlier this week on an internal HHS memo asking Becerra to rescind certain Trump-era provisions beefing up religious liberty protections. Although Becerra pledged to continue HHS’ protection of conscience rights, both his department and the White House have provoked concerns among some.
Harris’ bill received backing from multiple pro-life groups and Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities William E. Lori.
“It is hard to imagine a more blatant civil rights violation than being forced to abandon your beliefs and take part in ending an innocent human life,” said Lori. “HHS found that the University of Vermont Medical Center forced a nurse, against her known religious beliefs, to do just that. This is not only fundamentally wrong, but a direct violation of federal law. Yet the Department of Justice voluntarily dismissed the case against UVMC.”
“We have said before that the need for the Conscience Protection Act cannot be questioned. The need is more vital now than ever.”