The Corner

‘Reporting’ on the Conscience Rules

The New York Times is true to form in its story on the new HHS conscience protection regulations this morning. The Times puts the word conscience in scare quotes in its headline, since we all know that opposition to abortion couldn’t have anything to do with actual concerns of conscience. Then the story simply ignores (and in some places denies) the crucial fact that, like a lot of regulations, these rules implement existing law (in this case stretching over decades) rather than create any new protections—as the regulations themselves make exceedingly clear. The complete list of “opponents of abortion” who are cited in the story as supporting the new rule is “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association,” and to press the point that religious dogma is the only imaginable reason to oppose abortion the story concludes by citing unnamed opponents of the regulations who “contend that the regulations are a threat to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, and that they are not needed in any event because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits employment discrimination based on religion.”

The new rule responds to some recent evidence of confusion about conscience protections for health care workers. Put simply, it requires institutional health care providers to certify that they are aware of existing legal protections for employees who refuse to participate in abortions, and clarifies what kinds of institutions and what sorts of employees are covered by the statutory protections. It also assigns a particular office in HHS (the Office for Civil Rights) as the entity responsible for receiving complaints about violations of these protections, since it has long been unclear just how violations should be reported and addressed.

Not that you’d learn any of that by reading the papers.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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