Miss. Senator Joins Bicameral Response on Proposed Rule that Would Weaken Religious Freedom Protections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today joined in demanding modifications to a Biden administration proposed rule to ensure adherence to federal laws protecting the conscience protections for medical professionals who object to some procedures, such as abortion, for religious, moral, or ethical reasons.

Hyde-Smith, chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, is among 26 lawmakers who filed a public comment letter in response to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed rule, “Safeguarding the Rights of Conscience as Protected by Federal Statutes,” 88 Fed. Reg. 820.  

U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) led the letter, which asserts the proposed rule represents a return to an Obama-era rule and a retreat from the more than two dozen laws passed by Congress regarding rights of conscience.

“The proposed rule falls short of properly enforcing these laws as written and consistent with Congressional intent.  The lack of enforcement is evidenced not only by the failure to investigate and prosecute conscience violations by HHS in the last several years, but also the decision by HHS to walk back enforcement actions initiated by the previous administration, as detailed below,” the letter said.

The lawmakers demand the proposed rule be revised to guarantee greater implementation and enforcement of all the statutory conscience protections enacted by Congress, as reflected in the previous rule issued under the Trump administration to better enforce the existing federal laws protecting conscience rights.

“Emblematic of our nation’s founders, Thomas Jefferson declared in 1809 that ‘[n]o provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.’  While this Proposed Rule is marginally stronger than the wholly inadequate 2011 rule, it is still insufficient to implement and enforce Congressional statutes protecting conscience rights,” the lawmakers wrote.

In their comprehensive letter, the lawmakers outlined the following flaws with the proposed rule:

  • The Biden administration’s rule falls short of upholding existing laws.
  • The proposed rule puts application and enforcement discretion in the hands of HHS officials.
  • The proposed rule promotes abortion over following the law.
  • The proposed rule makes discrimination easier by making it harder for discrimination claims to be filed, investigated, and remedied.

Additional lawmakers joining the challenge to the HHS rule include U.S. Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-Kan.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.),  Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Kennedy (R-La.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

Members of the House of Representatives who signed the public comment letter include U.S. Representatives Andy Harris, M.D. (R-Md.), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M. (R-Ohio), Diana Harshbarger (R-Tenn.), Paul Gosar D.D.S. (R-Ariz.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks, M.D. (R-Iowa), and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.).

Read the full letter here.