New federal office to protect consciences, religious objections of health care professionals

The Health and Human Services Department issued a statement Thursday about the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that will enforce "laws and regulations that protect conscience and prohibit coercion on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide". President Bush had some conscience protections for health care workers, but the Obama administration reversed them, noting that they were being used to justify various forms of discrimination.

The HHS website says the OCR receives discrimination complaints under the following laws: The Church Amendments, Section 245 of the Public Health Service Act, The Weldon Amendment and The Affordable Care Act.

HHS previously issued rules allowing companies with religious or moral objections to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees.

The order beefed up existed protections for religious believers - as federal law already includes numerous provisions to protect medical workers and their beliefs. However, the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the new division.

Rev. Sammy Rodriguez called the move "powerful", and told CBN News he thinks President Trump is building a "firewall" to protect people of faith.

Although the new Health and Human Services division has been created, it's unclear exactly how it will approach its mission.

Twila Brase, head of the Minnesota-based, national patient-doctor rights group, Citizens' Council for Health Freedom, said establishing the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is a good move by the administration.

Officials said the division, part of the HHS' Office of Civil Rights, will stand ready to assist health care workers who say they're being coerced into participating in procedures that violate their beliefs.

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[F] or too long, too many healthcare practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against due to their religious beliefs and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder what future they have in our medical system.

"We are delighted that HHS has formed the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division", Stevens said in a news release. "Denying a transgender person - or any person - life-saving care if they walk into an emergency room is far from a moral act, it is unjust and unsafe".

"Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren't enforced", Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said.

Of course, this is not the first time the Trump administration has attacked trans people's health.

Asma Uddin, a fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and a Muslim, spoke at an HHS press conference about the need for protection against what she said was a variety of ways Muslim women patients are forced to violate their conscience, particularly with respect to modesty.

HHS hasn't responded to repeated inquiries from the Washington Blade on the nature of the new division or whether a new rule would be forthcoming.

In a statement provided to Brit + Co, Dr. Willie Parker, a reproductive rights advocate and chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said, "As medical professionals, our utmost concern is that people can get timely, high-quality health care that they need without stigma or obstacles".

"This will impose a broad religious refusal policy that will allow individuals and institutions to deny basic care for women and transgender people".

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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