WASHINGTON, D.C. – Recently, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) reintroduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2021 to protect health care providers, including health insurance plans, from government discrimination if they decline to participate in abortions. The Conscience Protection Act also provides a private right of action for victims of discrimination.
“Health care workers should not be forced to compromise their beliefs because they fear workplace discrimination,” said Senator Tillis. “This legislation provides permanent legal protection for health care workers who decline to participate in or perform abortion services.”
Senator Tillis was joined by several of his colleagues to re-introduce the bill, including Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jim Inhofe, (R-OK), Tim Scott (R-SC), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jim Risch (R-ID), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Boozman (R-AR), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), John Hoeven (R-ND), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Mike Rounds (R-SD).
Currently, if a health care provider, including insurance plans, refuses to provide abortions, the only recourse is to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In 2014, California required that health plans must cover abortions, which forced religious employers to offer plans that violate their religious beliefs. In December 2014 under the Obama Administration, HHS opened an investigation, and in spite of then-current laws protecting conscience rights, in June 2016, HHS declared that California could force all its health plans to cover elective abortions, which President Biden’s nominee for HHS Secretary has advocated for and enforced as Attorney General of California.
Under the Trump Administration, it took several actions to enforce current law and protect conscience: (1) created the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, (2) partnered with the Department of Justice to notice and enforce conscience violations in Vermont and California, resulting in the disallowance of $200 million per quarter from the state due to Attorney General Becerra’s refusal to comply with the law, and (3) issued the final rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights In Health Care” to enforce existing statutory protections, which Lankford supported. Unfortunately, a federal court vacated the conscience rule in November 2019. Litigation on the final rule continues at the Second Circuit in New York v. HHS. Seventy-eight Members of Congress filed an amicus brief led by Senator Lankford in the case.
While the rule from the Trump Administration now stands in limbo, passage of the Conscience Protection Act is critical. We cannot wait to see if the Biden Administration will choose to follow the law or whether they will revert to the actions of the Obama Administration and not only ignore the law, but leave victims of discrimination with no recourse. We must ensure the law is followed and that individuals are able to have their case heard in court.
The bill is supported by the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Concerned Women for America, Ethics and Public Policy Center, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Family Research Council, Freedom2Care, Heritage Action, March for Life, National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony List, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and First Liberty.