Trump Grants Health Workers the Right to Discriminate Under Guise of Religious Freedom

The Trump administration has announced that it will modify Department of Health and Human Services rules to allow health workers the right to refuse care to certain groups of people based on religious beliefs. Human rights advocates warn that the move could particularly impact trans people and women seeking abortion care.

Health workers who decide to discriminate will be encouraged to report the incident to a newly established division known as the Conscience and Religious Freedom division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In announcing the change on Thursday, January 18, the HHS released a statement that characterizes this decision as “restoring” protections for religious people. That statement reads in part:

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.  OCR is the law enforcement agency within HHS that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people’s health information.  The creation of the new division will provide HHS with 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.

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OCR Director Severino said, “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. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”

This change won’t likely translate to widespread discrimination at first, given that federal protections for many different classes of people — based on race or disability, for instance — already exist.

However, the Trump administration has been adamant that trans people and those seeking gender affirmation care are not protected by federal statute.

As Snopes points out, the federal government’s HHS arm has already issued statements asserting that the department does not need to abide by the Obama administration’s trans-inclusive interpretation of the Affordable Care Act. HHS now contends that sex discrimination protections do not cover gender identity.

This means that doctors may now be able to cite religious beliefs as a means to deny trans patients even basic care, such as consulting with young people and exploring their gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign has called the creation of the division unnecessary and an answer to a problem that does not exist. As HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow explains:

LGBTQ people need the Department of Health and Human Services to enforce non-discrimination protections in federal health programs. The creation of an unnecessary new division that is likely to promote a license to discriminate diverts needed enforcement resources and encourages discrimination against LGBTQ people. Every American deserves access to quality health care, and that should not be determined by the personal opinions of individual medical providers or administrative staff.

Women’s rights groups are also concerned that this decision could undermine abortion-related care, something that could dramatically impact the scant abortion services remaining across the country.

“This will impose a broad religious refusal policy that will allow individuals and institutions to deny basic care for women and transgender people. We know from experience that denial of care compromises care,” Dana Singiser, vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood, stated.

It has become customary to call claims like this fear-mongering and to laugh them off. However, the Trump administration has already refused to take cases from students claiming they have been discriminated against for being trans. Meanwhile, the GOP as a whole is on a blatant crusade to destroy Planned Parenthood and abortion services.

As many religious leaders have pointed out, the U.S. does not have a problem with religious protections, which are guaranteed as part of federal statute and as a matter of free speech under the First Amendment. 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 because of their religion.

This is grossly harmful in every sphere, but it is perhaps has the most venom in health care where people are already vulnerable, especially for those dealing with mental health issues surrounding their identity or pregnancy.

If the Trump administration’s record to-date is anything to go by, this move will likely act as a broad license to discriminate that could see LGBT people and other marginalized groups facing shameful discrimination we previously thought was consigned to history books.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

85 comments

Clare O'Beara
Clare O17 days ago

th

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O17 days ago

based on whose religious beliefs? The health care workers or the patients?

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Cindy S
Past Member about a month ago

disgusting

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R2 months ago

Thanks for posting your opinion....

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Danuta W
Danuta W3 months ago

thank you for posting

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Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Elaine W
Elaine W3 months ago

Noted with disdain for those who hide hatred behind upside down excuses. Religious "freedom" to torture fellow human beings has been popular in too many instances down through history.

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Dave fleming
Dave fleming4 months ago

TY

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Amanda M
Amanda M4 months ago

You have the right to follow whatever religion you feel is right for YOU. However, you do NOT have the right to force other people to follow the rules of your religion, or force other people to follow said religion NO MATTER WHAT. WHAT part of that do these Religious Reich idiots fail to get through their thick skulls?! And if you can't work in a specific field (health care, pharmaceuticals, etc.) without trying to trample on somebody else's right to care because it might clash with your religion, then you need to find another line of work or else swallow your pride and bigotry and check your beliefs at the door!

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