John Stonestreet on the HHS’s About-Face on Religious Liberty

According to the records, in Fiscal Year 2018 the U.S. Health and Human Services Civil Rights Office received over a thousand complaints, alleging conscience violations or religious discrimination. That’s significantly more than in any year recorded under the previous presidential administration.

One complaint came from a Catholic nurse working at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The unnamed nurse claims that her employer forced her to take part in an abortion, though she had informed the hospital of her pro-life beliefs. The nurse was scheduled to help a patient who had suffered a miscarriage, but when she walked into the operating room, she was expected to assist with an elective abortion. The doctor in charge allegedly said to her, “Don’t hate me.”

This is a university medical center that didn’t even practice elective abortions throughout most of its history, but a new rule instated in 2017 changed that and gave management the power to punish staffers who refuse to participate.

What this nurse experienced was a violation of federal law. According to what are known as the Church Amendments, healthcare personnel have “an unqualified right… to decline to participate in abortions without fear of adverse employment actions or loss of staff privileges.”

Under the Obama Administration, HHS ignored these laws. In fact, according to Roger Severino, who currently directs the Office of Civil Rights at HHS, the previous administration “systematically neglected” to enforce them.

Not anymore. On Wednesday, Severino issued a notice of violation against the Medical Center, giving them thirty days to comply with the law and allow medical staff to opt-out of abortions, or lose federal funding.

The hospital isn’t cooperating. In a statement, they claim HHS lacks the authority to conduct such an investigation, and that the hospital’s forced abortion policy strikes “the appropriate and legal balance” between employees’ religious rights and patient care.

According to Severino, there isn’t a balance to strike. As he told The Atlantic, “Religious-freedom laws are the ones mentioned in the very first amendment to the Constitution. They have pride of place. And they have been neglected for too long.”

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Source: Christian Headlines