HHS Proposes Rule Expanding Religious and Conscience Protections in Health Care


The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a wide-ranging proposed rule that focused on increasing protections for the rights of conscience and religious liberties in the area of health care services. Several provisions of the rule pertain to the issue of parental rights.

Interested people can provide comments until Tuesday, March 27.

The proposed rule, Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority, (83 FR 3880) states that:

HHS proposes this rule to enhance the awareness and enforcement of federal health care conscience and associated anti-discrimination laws, to further conscience and religious freedom, and to protect the rights of individuals and entities to abstain from certain activities related to health care services without discrimination or retaliation.

In addition to laying down some new regulations, it also revises old regulations to make certain that the correct practices and policies are in place that will help promote the rights of individuals and entities in the area of individual health care decisions. Toward this end, the proposed rule states the following:

Through this rulemaking, the Department proposes to grant overall responsibility to its Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for ensuring that the Department, its components, HHS programs and activities, and those who participate in HHS programs or activities comply with federal laws protecting the rights of conscience and prohibiting associated discriminatory policies and practices in such programs and activities.

One provision affecting parental rights addresses the issue of vaccinations. While does not take any official position on the use of vaccinations, the provision in this proposed rule does guarantee greater protection for parents to make their own informed medical decisions for their children. Section XII C (1) (i) specifically makes reference to ensuring that persons and entities are not “being required to administer or receive certain vaccinations derived from aborted fetal tissues as a condition of work or receipt of educational services.” This rule also includes broader “provisions [to] protect parents who conscientiously object to their children being forced to receive certain treatments or health interventions.” (Section III (I)) is excited to see the steps that HHS is taking to ensure that parents have the right to make their own choices regarding the health care of their children.

If you would like to comment and voice your opinions regarding the proposed rule, formal comments may be submitted here:

Finally, if you would like to learn more about the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the OCR whose jurisdiction the provisions of this rule fall under, visit

Other issues the proposed rule concerns:

  • Conscience protections related to abortion, sterilization, and certain other health services to participants in programs—and their personnel—funded by the Department (the Church Amendments, 42 U.S.C. 300a-7);
  • Conscience protections for health care entities related to abortion provision or training, referral for such abortion or training, or accreditation standards related to abortion (the Coats-Snowe Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 238n);
  • Protections from discrimination for health care entities and individuals who object to furthering or participating in abortion under programs funded by the Department’s yearly appropriations acts (e.g., Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, Pub. L. 115-31, Div. H, Tit. V, sec. 507(d) (the Weldon Amendment) and at Div. H, Tit. II, sec. 209);
  • Conscience protections under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) related to assisted suicide (42 U.S.C. 18113), the ACA individual mandate (26 U.S.C. 5000A(d)(2)), and other matters of conscience (42 U.S.C. 18023(c)(2)(A)(i)-(iii), (b)(1)(A) and (b)(4));
  • Conscience protections for objections to counseling and referral for certain services in Medicaid or Medicare Advantage (42 U.S.C. 1395w-22(j)(3)(B) and 1396u-2(b)(3)(B));
  • Conscience protections related to the performance of advanced directives (42 U.S.C. 1395cc(f), 1396a(w)(3), and 14406);
  • Conscience protections related to Global Health Programs to the extent administered by the Secretary (22 U.S.C. 7631(d); Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, Pub. L. 115-31, Div. J, Tit. VII, sec. 7018 (Helms Amendment));
  • Exemptions from compulsory health care or services generally (42 U.S.C. 1396f & 5106i(a)(1)), and under specific programs for hearing screening (42 U.S.C. 280g-1(d)), occupational illness testing (29 U.S.C. 669(a)(5)); vaccination (42 U.S.C. 1396s(c)(2)(B)(ii)), and mental health treatment (42 U.S.C. 290bb-36(f)); and
  • Protections for religious nonmedical health care (e.g., 42 U.S.C. 1320a-1, 1320c-11, 1395i-5 and 1397j-1(b)).

(These laws will be collectively referred to as “Federal health care conscience and associated anti-discrimination laws” for purposes of this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.)