By Julie Grimstad, President of HALO
"Our rules can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God." – Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
“Our founding fathers . . . believed, as I do, that without freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, all of our other freedoms aren’t worth the paper they are written on. If government can dictate what we may or may not believe, or how we may or may not live out our beliefs, then we are no longer a free people.” – Chuck Colson (1931-2012)
Religious freedom and conscience rights are being challenged as never before in the medical world. The patient’s “right to choose” morally controversial “medical services” (e.g., abortion, assisted suicide, contraception, sterilization, gender-transition surgery) is regularly promoted over the conscience rights of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. Those who believe in a law higher than “freedom of choice” are branded “intolerant,” “bigoted,” and “haters” for refusing to participate in actions that are contrary to their deeply held beliefs.
An organizational goal of HALO is to safeguard the conscience rights of healthcare professionals. The freedom to act, both privately and publicly, according to one’s conscience and sincerely held ethical and religious beliefs is essential to preserve patients’ access to those providers who affirm the sanctity and dignity of life.
The “rights” battle rages on.
In May, the “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” rule was finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services and set to go into effect November 22. The intent of this HHS rule was to provide relief for healthcare professionals by assuring them that they could neither be compelled to participate in actions in violation of their consciences nor be forced to abandon their professional careers by declining to provide unethical “medical services.” This rule would have added teeth to enforcement of more than two dozen existing bipartisan laws protecting conscience rights.
We celebrated. However, the celebration was short-lived.
The new rule was immediately challenged in federal court. Naturally, Planned Parenthood (PP), this nation’s leading abortion provider, joined one of the three sets of plaintiffs. On November 6, Judge Paul Engelmayer, Southern District of New York, in a 146-page decision, overturned these protections for conscience rights of health care workers. This activist judge ruled “they do not comply with the U.S. Constitution and Administrative Procedure Act.” PP praised this decision. PP considered the HHS rule “a license to discriminate.” [1]
Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, said:
This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that violate their conscience. The Trump Administration’s HHS protections would ensure that healthcare professionals are free to work consistent with their religious beliefs while providing the best care to their patients. [2]
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the judge’s decision, calling it “absurd mush.” “In this country, government doesn’t get to tell you that your faith is fine on Sunday at church but not Monday at work.” [3]
HHS is expected to appeal, but the rule will not go into effect on November 22. Meanwhile, healthcare workers who hold to religious and ethical standards once noncontroversial – such as not maiming or killing patients – wait in limbo.

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