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The Trump Administration Creates New Division to Protect Doctors' Religious Freedoms

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The Trump administration announced Thursday the creation of a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that will allow health workers to object to performing procedures that go against their religious or moral obligations. According to HHS, procedures health care workers can object to include abortion and assisted suicide. Politico reported that this could also include transitioning services for transgender patients.

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will be a part of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights. The office handles HIPAA violations and discrimination complaints from health workers and patients.

Though the Office for Civil Rights is tasked with helping fight discrimination in health care, some think this new division is discriminatory. The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement regarding the new division that said it opens the door to discriminate against people, especially women and LGBTQ people. Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, added:

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. The administration has already shown its hand earlier this year by adopting rules that permit virtually all manner of businesses to refuse to comply with laws providing contraception coverage.

We may not know exactly what this new division will look like in practice, but we do know that this means they prioritize religious liberty over the health and civil rights of women, transgender people, and others. They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives. This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.

On Twitter, people expressed concern that allowing health workers to refuse service to someone in need is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, which says doctors shall do no harm.

The civil rights office was also in charge of implementing the Obama-era mandate that insurance companies had to cover oral and other common contraceptives. The Trump administration moved to rollback this mandate last October citing religious freedom, but this was blocked by a federal judge in December.

On the same day the new division was announced, Buzzfeed News reported that HHS hid thousands of critical remarks against a religious freedom proposal from October that would give religious health organizations public funding. On top of receiving public funding, these organizations could deny services such as abortions, sex reassignment surgery, and in vitro fertilization for homosexual couples.

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Photo via the White House

Originally published: January 18, 2018
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