On Jan. 18, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the creation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In a press release, the HHS said the division will allow doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to opt out of providing services when they have moral or religious objections.
Conservative groups lauded the new policy for seeking to protect the religious freedom of medical professionals.
“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice," Roger Severino, OCR director and known anti-LGBTQ activist, said.
However, women's, LGBTQ rights, and other physician groups expressed concern for the heavy implications on patients' access to abortion and treating LGBTQ patients. Critics worry that the policy will further reinforce inequities within the health care system for vulnerable populations, by legally sanctioning health care providers to justify discrimination.
“The administration appears set to go far, far beyond the reasonable accommodations that have long existed in our laws. This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are,” Harper Jean Tobin, the director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “The vast majority of the medical community is against any form of license to discriminate. That the administration is rushing out such a momentous rule in secret, hiding behind a vague description and potentially circumventing normal procedures, just underscores how far they have been straying from established law in this area.”
Read the full press release here.