The Biden administration aims to revise a controversial rule, crafted under former President Donald Trump, that would have allowed doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other workers in the medical field to refuse service to individuals if they claimed that serving them would conflict with their religious beliefs.
The “conscience rule,” which was announced in 2018 by the Trump administration and finalized in 2019, has never been enforced; federal judges blocked its implementation, noting that it could have profound and disturbing repercussions for many groups of people. Still, President Joe Biden’s plan to reverse the rule is significant, as it will ensure that such restrictions won’t be imposed in the near future, rendering the policy moot and unenforceable regardless of its judicial outcomes.
Politico was the first to report on the rule’s reversal, stating on Tuesday that a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had told them that the change was coming soon.
“HHS has made clear through the unified regulatory agenda that we are in the rulemaking process,” that spokesperson told the publication.
Changes to the rule could happen as soon as the end of this month, they added.
The rule, had it been enforced, would have granted a wide range of workers in the health field the ability to deny care to customers or patients for myriad reasons, including bigoted ones, so long as they cited a religious or moral justification for their discrimination.
The Trump administration claimed the rule was necessary to ensure that such workers wouldn’t be “bullied out” of their professions for discriminating against people or refusing to provide certain types of care.
The rule could have allowed pharmacists to deny the filling of prescriptions to customers seeking certain types of birth control, for example. It also could have granted doctors and nurses the ability to turn away patients seeking abortions, STI or HIV services, or gender-affirming care, all on the basis of their religious beliefs. Critics also contended that the Trump-era rule would have allowed doctors to turn LGBTQ patients away from their doors altogether.
The decision to rescind the rule comes as many GOP-led state governments aim to restrict health care choices, particularly abortion.
“As state politicians continue to strip people of their sexual and reproductive rights and freedoms, it’s imperative that the Biden-Harris administration revoke this discriminatory policy and help ensure people can access the health care and information they need when they need it,” said Jacqueline Ayers, the senior vice president of policy, organizing and campaigns for Planned Parenthood. “We look forward to seeing the details of the new rule and are excited about this step forward.”