Americans United for Life filed a comment in opposition to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Proposed Rule, “Safeguarding the Rights of Conscience as Protected by Federal Statutes.” The Proposed Rule nominally protects conscience rights, but in reality, weakens compliance measures for conscience anti-discrimination laws. As our comment argues, HHS does not have the legal authority to diminish conscience protections, especially for abortion and assisted suicide. Conscientious objections to abortion and assisted suicide fundamentally raise objections to taking a human life. Because federal law does not grant pro-life doctors and medical professionals an express private right of action to bring suit to enforce their rights in court, it is essential that HHS robustly enforces conscience statutes.

HHS Does Not Have Authority to Subvert Congress

In the Proposed Rule, HHS contends that it must balance conscience rights against patient access to healthcare, including suicide assistance. But HHS does not have the authority to promote suicide access or subvert Congress’ policy stance of suicide prevention. Assisted suicide is not healthcare, but a narrow exception to homicide laws. Suicide assistance uses experimental drugs directly on patients without the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval or clinical trials. Further, the practice is ableist and is therefore contrary to federal policies preventing disability discrimination that were designed to protect vulnerable persons.

Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act safeguards conscience rights against forced participation in assisted suicide. However, there has been a rise in conscience threats as jurisdictions expand access to suicide assistance. Unfortunately, states inadequately protect conscientious objectors, which makes it critical that HHS ensures compliance with Section 1553 and safeguards conscientious objections to taking human life.

“Congress has a rich tradition of protecting conscientious objections to taking human life,” explains Carolyn McDonnell, AUL Litigation Counsel. “By eviscerating compliance measures for conscience anti-discrimination laws, HHS is subverting Congress’ clear direction to protect conscience rights. Americans United for Life urges HHS to abandon the unlawful Proposed Rule and protect conscientious objectors from coerced participation in abortion and assisted suicide.”