HHS Religious Freedom Division draws praise, alarm in Minnesota

Posted January 21, 2018

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Civil Rights announced that they would be enhancing the legal protections for healthcare workers with religious or moral objections to certain procedures or treatments.

HHS said its new division will provide "the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights".

President George W. Bush's HHS issued very similar "conscience protection" rules during his time in office, but the Trump White House seems to go further in creating a new division.

However, women's, LGBTQ rights, and other physician groups expressed concern for the heavy implications on patients' access to abortion and treating LGBTQ patients.

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"HHS is the next area where the issues of conscience and the issues of life and death are coming to the fore", said Roger Severino, the new head of HHS's Office of Civil Rights in a ceremony marking the occasion.

"Too many of these healthcare practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against due to their religious beliefs or moral convictions", Hargan said at the event.

"Health care professionals do not put their consciences in a blind trust when they pursue medical training", Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a press release. But advocates for women and transgender people say it could have life-threatening consequences. They maintain there is an abundance of providers who would step in. He said religious freedom is a common phrase "used to make discrimination against LGBTQ people sound more palatable".

Everett Piper-the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, which sued the federal government over the ACA birth control mandate-and Montse Alvarado-executive director of Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor in their contraceptive fight-spoke at the HHS announcement and applauded the new office, as did Jewish and Muslim representatives. "This direct targeting of an already vulnerable community from the White House is part of a clear and unsafe pattern including revoking protections for trans students, the proposed trans military ban, and reportedly seeking to censor the word "transgender" from the Center of Disease Control budget documents", GLAAD reports.

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In 2o16, Severino wrote in a Heritage Foundation report: "On the basis of religious teachings, moral reasoning, scientific evidence, and medical experience, many have strong grounds to hold that one's sex is an immutable characteristic".

Legal challenges are expected to be filed by opponents of the new division. "I don't get to do that", she said. She also says even if a provider personally objects to something, integral to the health care profession is the tenet that they are to leave their personal beliefs at the door of their health care facility.

"I was told that because of these convictions, I wouldn't be allowed to interview and proceed with the hiring process", she said.

For individuals who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, the survey found eight percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to see them due to their sexual orientation.

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This is the latest in a series of pro-life moves made by the Trump administration.