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Thomas Mitchell

And you thought the 13th Amendment prohibited involuntary servitude.

This past week Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford joined a coalition of 23 states and local governments in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule aiming to protect health care providers from having to provide services contrary to one’s “religious beliefs or moral convictions” — such as abortion, contraception, sterilization, assisted suicide or transgender hormone treatment or surgery.

The so-called Final Rule was announced in early May by Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS. He said in a statement that the rule “provides enforcement tools to federal conscience protections that have been on the books for decades” and “does not create new substantive rights.”

Severino added, “Finally, laws prohibiting government-funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”

Ford said in a statement accompanying the announcement of Nevada’s role in the litigation, “The Department of Health and Human Services’ rule would allow individuals and entire institutions to deny lawful and medically necessary care to patients, even in cases of emergencies,” though it is difficult to conjure what constitutes an “emergency” abortion, assisted suicide of transgender treatment.

The crux of the lawsuit is money.

The lawsuit and Ford’s press release note that noncompliance with the 440-page Final Rule could result in the denial of federal funding. The lawsuit alleges this could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Ford’s statement further argues “the Final Rule, which will take effect in July 2019, would undermine the delivery of health care by giving a wide range of health care institutions and individuals a right to refuse care, based on the provider’s own personal views. … The Rule makes this right absolute and categorical: no matter what reasonable steps a health provider or employer makes to accommodate the views of an objecting individual, if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation, a provider or employer is left with no recourse.”

The Wall Street Journal noted at the time the Final Rule was announced that it is an outgrowth of President Trump’s 2017 executive order that included a section on “conscience protections.” The order was seen as a direct response to some Obama administration orders.

“Several religious groups, for example, battled the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers and insurers provide no-cost contraceptive coverage for employees,” the newspaper reported.

Kevin Theriot, vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, told the National Catholic Register earlier this month that those who have conscientious objections to procedures are not discriminating.

“Our clients that have conscientious objections to participating in abortion or participating in, for instance, sex-change therapy or any of those kinds of things, they don’t discriminate based upon a person’s sexual orientation or their sex or anything like that,” Theriot was quoted as saying. “What they’re saying is they shouldn’t be forced to participate in a procedure that violates their convictions. They won’t do that procedure for anybody, so there’s no discrimination going on at all. What’s going on is acknowledging our time-honored practice here in America of respecting rights of conscience.”

As an example of the problem, the Catholic publication noted an example of a New York nurse who was forced to participate in an abortion procedure despite her conscientious objection as a Catholic.

“I’ll never forget the day my supervisor ignored the law and forced me to participate in an abortion. I still have nightmares about that day,” the nurse said in a statement. “As an immigrant to America because of the freedom and opportunity I saw here, today I’m hopeful that HHS’ new rule will help make sure that no other nurses or health care professionals will be forced to go through what I did and that their rights will be protected.”

Theriot noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that each person determines his or her own conscience, not the government.

And you thought the First Amendment prohibited Congress from abridging the free exercise of religion.

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Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com.

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