The Trump administration has announced the creation of a new "Conscience and Religious Freedom Division" of the Department of Health and Human Services, devoted to ensuring doctors, nurses and health-care workers won't have to facilitate services they find morally objectionable.
The division was announced Thursday morning, one day before Donald Trump becomes the first sitting president to address the anti-abortion March for Life.
"President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom," said acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan. "That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR's new division will help make that vision a reality."
The new division will be housed within HHS' existing Office for Civil Rights, which is run by Richard Severino. While its initial focus appears to be shielding health-care workers who refuse to provide or refer patients for reproductive services. Severino has argued vociferously against LGBT rights in general, and providing transition-related services to trans Americans in particular.
After the Obama administration issued guidelines ensuring trans people wouldn't be discriminated against under the Affordable Care Act, Severino declared the ACA would "force doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries.”
“The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom,” Severino wrote in a blogpost for the right-wing Heritage Foundation. He has also backed North Carolina's odious HB2 and once accused Planned Parenthood of using federal money to facilitate “industrial-scale abortion.”
"Never forget that religious freedom is a primary freedom, that it is a civil right that deserves enforcement and respect," he said at a ceremony Thursday morning. "Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren't enforced."
But are conscientious objectors really the most vulnerable segment of our population?
A new report from the Center for American Progress revealed that nearly 30% of trans people report being turned away by a doctor or health care provider because of their gender identity.
The report called out several instances where LGBT Americans have had access to care delayed or denied:
* After one patient with HIV disclosed to a hospital that he had sex with other men, the hospital staff refused to provide his HIV medication.
* A transgender teenager who was admitted to a hospital for suicidal ideation and self-inflicted injuries was repeatedly misgendered and then discharged early by hospital staff. He later committed suicide.
* An infant in Michigan was turned away from a pediatrician’s office because she had same-sex parents.
While many states don't include sexual orientation or gender identity in their anti-discrimination statutes, Section 1557 of the ACA ensured federal protections in health care for all Americans. The new division essentially undercuts those provisions.
“Today’s announcement shows us, once again, that the administration is doubling down on licensing discrimination against women and LGBT people, all in the name of religion,"
said the ACLU's Louise Melling. “There’s every reason to think that this administration is going to place religious objections over the health and lives of rights of individuals.”
The broad language used to describe the division means such "moral objections" could be used to refuse to provide contraception, HIV medication, even anti-rejection medication for transplant patients.
The new unit "effectively eviscerates the very purpose of Department of Health and Human Services to protect the health of all Americans and provide essential human services," said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. "Nothing about today’s action is ‘moral’ or ‘civil.’ It is clear to even the most casual observer that this is the Republican Administration’s latest bald-faced attempt to appease the most extreme elements of their ever-shrinking base."