The Trump Administration today is expected release yet another new rule aimed at allowing religion to be used to discriminate against women and LGBTQ people.
Today’s harmful rule will likely allow doctors, healthcare, workers, and hospitals to refuse patients life-saving transition-related and abortion-related services. We don’t yet know the details of the rule though, and it’s unclear whether it will extend even further than these services and cause even more harm.
Religious freedom is fundamental, but so is the right of patients to access the health care they need. The government should never allow the religious beliefs of a healthcare provider to come before what is best for the patient. That puts patients’ health and well-being in jeopardy and can cause serious harm to those critically in need of care.
A woman who is experiencing a miscarriage and needs an abortion to save her life should not be turned away from the emergency room because the hospital abides by religious directives. Nor should a transgender patient be denied treatment for an unrelated condition because that would require discussing the patient’s hormone therapy, and the doctor cites a religious objection.
This is not just discriminatory and unfair, it’s potentially life-threatening.
The rule is also expected to create a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) civil rights office. The division would ensure that employees of health care providers can opt out of procedures when they have religious or moral objections and “punish” organizations that don’t give employees exemptions. Essentially, this rule will transform HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, which has always enforced nondiscrimination protections, into an office that sanctions discrimination
It is hard to underestimate just how much damage this new division could cause under this administration.
First, the reach of HHS programs is vast. HHS is our nation’s “principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.” Its activities “impact health, public health, and human services outcomes throughout the lifespan.” It’s not hard to imagine that this new division will end up providing broad religious exemptions throughout all of these critical programs. Countless people who need services could be harmed.
Second, Roger Severino, the head of the HHS civil rights office, has a clear agenda. As reported in The Atlantic, Severino is the former head of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. (Yes, it is named after that DeVos family.) Prior to his current position at HHS, Severino “vigorously argued against legalizing same-sex marriage and mandated accommodations for transgender individuals in school locker rooms or public bathrooms.” He has also opposed healthcare nondiscrimination protections for trans patients.
This morning, we’ll be outside HHS headquarters with our allies, telling the Trump administration that religion is no excuse to discriminate. And, once the rule comes down, we’ll be opposing it. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news on this expected rule.