Broad support to protect doctors, nurses from discriminatory firing

Medical groups, minorities, legal experts line up against New York’s attempt to block healthcare anti-discrimination law

WASHINGTON – A diverse group of states, Members of Congress, minority groups, medical affiliate organizations, and legal experts recently filed half-a-dozen briefs supporting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Conscience Rule, which provides federal conscience protections for medical professionals. In New York v. HHS, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is defending Dr. Regina Frost and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) from attempts by states to discriminate against doctors and nurses who refuse to violate their consciences and medical judgment by performing procedures such as abortions or physician-assisted suicide. This case is now in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Here are highlights from the friend-of-the-court filings in New York v. HHS:

*A congressional brief filed by dozens of Members of Congress explained why the new rule’s provisions flowed directly from unchallenged—and bipartisan—statutory protections for medical conscience that have been on the books for decades.

*Former Senator Coats and former Representative Weldon (the named sponsors of two key statutory conscience protections for healthcare providers) filed their own brief in support, explaining why conscience protections are important for health care providers and how the government’s new regulation supports key bipartisan statutory protections that have long been on the books.

*The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the Coalition for Jewish Values also highlighted the disproportionate impact that New York’s lawsuit would have on medical professionals of minority faiths.

*The Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence explained why this new rule helps the government better enforce existing federal conscience protections.

*A coalition of medical professional organizations—including the American College Of Pediatricians, the Catholic Medical Association, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center—filed a brief highlighting ongoing threats to medical professionals of faith and explaining why this rule will help ensure medical providers cannot be coerced by employers to either violate their conscience or lose their job.

“Healthcare is one area where protecting conscience is particularly vital,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, in a brief on behalf of sixteen states. “That is why Congress has routinely enacted laws to ensure that these professionals can provide care without violating their beliefs.”

Polling from last year shows that religious healthcare professionals are committed to serving all patients but face increasing pressures to engage in procedures such as abortions that violate their faith, which could force over ninety percent of religious doctors out of the medical field.

HHS issued a Conscience Rule last year to better enforce bipartisan laws that, for decades, have promised to allow religious doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals to serve patients without facing employment discrimination directed against their consciences. The Rule simply clarifies and enforces existing federal statutes designed to ensure religious health professionals won’t be forced out of the practice of medicine by entities that voluntarily choose to accept federal tax money. 

However, led by the State of New York, several states and abortion providers are suing to keep the federal funds while preventing the government from enforcing the conscience protections that they agreed to when they accepted the funds.

“It is encouraging to see this broad coalition stand up in support of conscience rights,” said Dr. Regina Frost. “I hope the Court will recognize that the Rule simply enforces common-sense, bipartisan protections that protect both medical professionals from unjust discrimination and patients from losing their doctors.”

Dr. Frost is an OB-GYN and one of nearly 19,000 medical professionals in CMDA serving the sick and vulnerable in the United States and abroad. CMDA members serve the homeless, prisoners living with HIV, and victims of opioid addiction, sex trafficking, and gang violence. Overseas, CMDA members serve in war zones, refugee clinics, and remote areas without quality healthcare. New York’s lawsuit needlessly threatens the health and well-being of at-risk, underserved populations across the globe.