Practice management

HHS Issues Revised Conscience Rule

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a Final Rule on Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care, which consolidates and revises earlier regulations from the last 50 year.1

“The rule ensures that, among other things, healthcare professionals will not feel compelled to leave the practice of medicine because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide. It also protects the right of diverse faith-based health care institutions to retain their religious beliefs and identity as part of their mission of serving others,” the HHS explained.2

The rule, enforceable by the HHS’s Office of Civil Rights, revises the existing 2011 rule in both scope and procedure. It covers a total of 25 provisions passed by Congress, while the 2011 rule covered only 3 conscience statutes. Further, it gives the HHS the authority to investigate complaints, initiate compliance reviews, and make enforcement referrals to the Department of Justice.

The conscience protections covered by the rule include:

  • The Church Amendments
  • The Coats-Snowe Amendment
  • The Weldon Amendment
  • Affordable Care Act conscience protections regarding abortion and assisted suicide
  • Conscience exemptions for patients from certain specified health care services
  • Conscience protections for religious nonmedical health care institutions.

—Michael Potts


  1. Department of Health and Human Services. protecting statutory conscience rights in health care.
  2. Department of Health and Human Services. Final Conscience Regulation Factsheet [published May 2, 2019].