Trump's New Religious Freedom Division Is a License to Discriminate

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That follows an announcement Thursday of a new division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights devoted to protecting the conscience rights of clinicians.

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling said in a statement ahead of the announcement, "Should the administration choose to move forward to implement a discriminatory policy, we will see them in court".

Although the administration claims the new office is meant to protect religious beliefs, it will nearly surely function to license discrimination against women, LGBT people, and others.

Saying the new division is a way to sanction discrimination in healthcare, Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, called it "misguided" and "mean-spirited".

Catholics for Choice, a group that supports a woman's right to choose, also criticized the action.

Earlier this week, President Trump recognized National Religious Freedom Day, saying in a January 16 proclamation, "No American - whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner - should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law". "Today at the White House, surrounded by many young people, President Trump addressed the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. and the millions around the country to remember the tens of millions of victims of abortion as he stated that the 'March for Life is a movement born out of love.' Today we have hope that America can turn the page on abortion and protect the rights of conscience and religious freedom for all Americans", said Staver.

The American Medical Association, the largest organization that represents USA doctors, declined to comment, saying it had not seen the written proposal from HHS.

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Steve Goss, president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas Communities, said that patients do not have to worry that the increased conscience protections will limit access to medical care. "Physicians must respect basic civil liberties and not discriminate against individuals".

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said: "Any healthcare worker who has moral objections to providing medically necessary care to an entire vulnerable population is in the wrong line of work".

"For too long, too many health care 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", said acting secretary Eric Hargan.

A Politico report on the move said the change to the civil rights office was part of a larger protection plan that included a shield for health care workers objecting to treating transgender people seeking to transition.

The division would enforce the legal protection and conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers with religious or moral objections to opt out. Allowing healthcare workers who are biased, racist, homophobic, transphobic or against women's reproductive rights to withhold health services will hurt our neighbors.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of a new and risky division of the Office of Civil Rights today that will allow healthcare providers to deny care to LGBT people and pregnant women based on their religious beliefs. But that freedom does not give anyone a right to harm others, including by way of an exemption from our nation's laws that bar discrimination and that protect our health. We are equal under the law.

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will enforce existing protection statutes over which the Office of Civil Rights already has authority.

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