Will Health and Human Services Allow Doctors Refuse to Treat LGBTQ Patients?

Georgia Reed
January 20, 2018

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution of course protects the free exercise of religion without interference by the federal government, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and requires reasonable accommodation in some circumstances.

The division will protect medical workers whose beliefs preclude their participation in procedures like abortion, assisted suicide and gender-change operations.

An Obama-era policy had been established which required health workers to treat all patients, regardless of their personal beliefs, particularly with regard to performing abortions. "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. 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". 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. In October, Trump also amended the Affordable Care Act's regulations that mandated contraception coverage, according to ABC News.

The Trump administration posits the move will allow for greater religious freedom but some providers are skeptical and anxious the move will block care services to certain populations.

"This announcement marks the Trump administration's latest step toward turning the Department of Health and Human Services into a place where backwards ideology rules, and science, ethics, and concern for the well-being of all Americans are non-existent", the statement said.

Severino said that from 2008 to November 2016, the Health and Human Services Department received 10 complaints involving religious and conscience rights.

The new division is called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, and will be officially announced Thursday morning at an event at HHS. It's also an attack against all people, including many in the transgender community, who rely on critical care ranging from reproductive services to emergency services to HIV medication.

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Evangelicals fighting for religious liberty have tried to resist efforts to confine expressions of faith to within church walls, and have pushed for greater protections for their beliefs in the workplace and public life-particularly when it comes to increasingly unpopular ones around LGBT and life issues.

"For more than 40 years, federal law has protected the conscience rights of all Americans in the context of health care", the Heritage Foundation said in a statement. The physicians Goss knows all provide care to anyone, even if they are engaged in a lifestyle the doctor regards as harmful or immoral, he said, using smoking and alcohol abuse as examples.

Abortion rights advocates called the new division "incredibly risky".

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said, "No nurse or doctor should lose her job, her livelihood or her profession because of her faith". HHS did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

Critics said the division's creation could encourage a broader range of religious objections, with a potentially strong impact on less-settled areas of the law like the status of gay and transgender individuals under anti-discrimination statutes.

Patient groups and other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say they will challenge any move by the government to allow healthcare workers to refuse to provide services based on "conscience protections".

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