A proposed rule currently under review by the White House would set up protections for health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, refuse to treat transgender patients based on their gender identity or provide other services for which they have moral objections.
The move would empower the HHS office in charge of civil rights to further shield these workers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their moral objections, according to a report in Politico on Wednesday.
HHS did not respond to Politico’s requests for comment, but the news outlet wrote that “HHS’ leaders have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for rolling back regulations dating to the George W. Bush administration that legally insulated health care workers while affirming their religious freedoms.”
According to the report, Roger Severino, the Trump administration appointee who now leads the HHS civil rights office, has repeatedly stressed that strengthening conscience protections for health care workers is a top priority for his office.
That comment has LGBT activists up in arms. “This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are,” said Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Any rule that grants a license to discriminate would be a disgrace and a mockery of the principal of religious freedom we all cherish.”
Politico says the pending rule could be released as soon as this week and has been described as “establishing a new ‘division’ of the HHS civil rights office that would conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers to opt out of procedures when they have religious or moral objections.”
In 2011, the Obama administration rewrote a series of Bush-era protections designed to protect the moral and religious beliefs of healthcare workers. “Opponents of the Bush rules argue that they were too broad and could have allowed workers to opt out of end-of-life care, providing birth control and treatment for HIV and AIDS. For instance, some workers cited their moral objections when denying fertility treatment to lesbian couples or not providing ambulance transportation to a pregnant woman seeking an abortion,” according to the report.
On the other hand, those who objected to killing unborn babies were liable to be fired for refusing to assist in abortions.
“To be forced under pain of losing one’s job is just outrageous,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said last week. President Trump is “now looking to remedy that through the HHS mechanism — hasn’t happened yet, but it will.”
Republicans in the House have also introduced legislation on the subject. Smith said Trump has assured anti-abortion groups that he would sign the legislation.