Friday, January 19, 2018
The Trump administration will create a new conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department to ease the way for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs. Specific details are scheduled to be announced Thursday. But the new policy appears to be broad and aimed at protecting health-care workers who cite those reasons for refusing to take part in abortions, treat transgender patients or participate in other types of care. Conservative groups praised the move Wednesday as upholding providers' right to religious liberty.
But a number of women's and LGBT rights and physician groups expressed worry that such a policy would further discriminate against vulnerable populations and worsen inequities within health care. Even before the official announcement, several groups vowed to challenge it.
"This will impose a broad religious refusal policy that will allow individuals and institutions to deny basic care for women and transgender people. We know from experience that denial of care compromises care," said Dana Singiser, vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood.
By empowering an enforcement authority, the action will reverse policies put in place under President Barack Obama, and resurrect and expand "conscience protections" introduced under President George W. Bush. The new division, which will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, will not only accept complaints from health-care professionals but will be responsible for ensuring that hospitals, clinics and other institutions across the country are accommodating their beliefs.
The previous administration, Christensen said, had "significantly narrowed enforcement of the laws" in place to safeguard those who oppose abortion or hold other religious convictions.
The president signed an executive order last year instructing agencies to expand religious liberty under federal law, and HHS has been at the leading edge of implementing that directive. The department issued rules in October that provided broad religious and moral exemptions to the Affordable Care Act's mandate that employers, including for-profit companies, provide no-cost contraception coverage.
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