Trump gives health workers new religious liberty protections

Trump gives health workers new religious liberty protections

The Trump administration is setting up a new division of the US Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to protecting the conscience rights of health workers.

"We are reinstating flexibility for state Medicaid directors to establish reasonable standards and protect program integrity in their own state programs", said Charmaine Yoest, assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS, in a Friday press call. Shortly before President Trump made an unprecedented satellite address at an annual anti-abortion rally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule drastically expanding the authority and scope of its enforcement around religious and moral exemption laws. "I don't get to do that", she said.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said no litigation against the proposal is planned at this time.

Under the new plan, The HHS will regulate hospitals and clinics to certify compliance with some 25 federal laws on conscience protections.

"Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren't enforced".

"Denying LGBTQ people and women medically necessary, potentially life-saving care is extremely unsafe", said Rev. Stan J. Sloan, CEO of the Family Equality Council.

"Any healthcare worker who has moral objections to providing medically necessary care to an entire vulnerable population is in the wrong line of work", said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD.

Ever since the announcement of this new division, there's been speculation about how this idea of "conscience protection" might play out in real life. "The way these conscience claims work is that providers do not deny service to patients because of identities".


A quick word search in the 216-page proposed rule shows that the word "abortion" is mentioned 155 times, while "transgender" does not appear once.

The language of the 216-page proposal is geared more toward allowing medical providers to deny abortion-related services on the basis of religious objections, but it contains broad language allowing for exemptions for any reason as well as code words critics say are meant to deny LGBT people medical services.

"The Department of Health & Human Services ... proposed a regulation that goes well beyond existing laws to create sweeping, risky exemptions that would encourage health care providers to pick and choose which patients they will and won't treat", Keisling said.

But this gives little comfort to organizations like Lambda Legal, which works on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

The rule succeeds in "weaponizing HHS's Office of Civil Rights against us", she said.

The head of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights, Roger Severino, has a history of actively opposing equal rights for minorities. "And if they do need to litigate them, they will have a partner in this division". Everybody should be in favor of civil rights for all and that includes our first civil right, which is our right to free expression of religion and conscience. What this new division seems set to do, however, is to allow those who are so inclined to directly undermine the rights of others - particularly sexual and gender minorities - and then to claim to be doing so due to their religion.

How frequently health care providers will file complaints on religious or moral grounds remains to be seen. Ten complaints were filed with HHS during the eight years of the Obama administration, whereas there have been 34 since November 2016.

"Since the election of President Donald Trump and the change in tone we've communicated to Americans that their rights will be respected, their cases will be investigated and treated appropriately", Serevino said. "We know from experience that denial of care compromises care", Dana Singiser, vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood, stated.

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