- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Trump administration announced new rules Thursday it says will shield doctors, nurses and other health workers who object on religious grounds to participating in abortions, sterilizations or assisted suicides.

President Trump broadcast the new rule during a National Day of Prayer celebration at the White House, delighting his pro-life allies.

“We finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” Mr. Trump said in a speech in the Rose Garden. “They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time — happened today.”

Under the rule, doctors and health care entities would not be forced to make referrals or provide, pay for or offer coverage of procedures like abortion if doing so violates their beliefs.

Hospitals, universities and other facilities receiving federal money must verify they are complying with 25 federal statutes that preserve conscience and religious-freedom rights, officials said. The government may strip them of funding if they fail to do so.

“This rule ensures that health care entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,” said Roger Severino, director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights.

Some progressive groups cried foul, saying the regulation could deprive patients of needed services. Among the losers in the new equation are women and LGBTQ patients, opponents said.

“This rule allows anyone from a doctor to a receptionist to entities like hospitals and pharmacies to deny a patient critical — and sometimes lifesaving — care. Personal beliefs should never determine the care a patient receives,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.

But the Health and Human Services Department said the rules are designed to make sure hospitals, clinics and other providers did not skirt existing laws.

Mr. Trump said the rule is part of a sweeping effort by his administration to preserve religious liberty in every facet of American life.

He vowed to let faith-based adoption services operate without interference, said prisoners will receive faith-based counseling under his criminal justice-reform bill and claimed stores are replacing generic holiday wishes with “Merry Christmas.”

“They’re using the word ‘God’ again,” Mr. Trump said. “In God we trust — so important.”

The National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of May each year. Created under President Harry S. Truman in 1952, the event invites people of all faiths to pray for the nation and is traditionally observed with a presidential proclamation.

Mr. Trump used the occasion to create a White House office on faith initiatives last year, and this year followed up with his conscience-protection rule.

Officials said the new regulation replaces an “inadequate” Obama-era rule, clarifying who is covered and how they must comply.

Pro-life groups vital to Mr. Trump’s base were thrilled with the policy.

“The new Health and Human Services rule will ensure that the rights of medical professionals, guaranteed by the United States Constitution as well as federal law, will be respected,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life. “No one should be forced to participate in life-ending procedures like abortion or similar activities that go against their religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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