HHS creates new religious freedom division in OCR

Acting Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan announces a new division on Conscience and Religious Freedom which will protect the rights of medical providers who refuse to perform certain procedures based on religious beliefs

Healthcare workers, hospitals with religious affiliations, and medical students among others have been "bullied" by the federal government to provide these services despite existing laws on religious and conscience rights, the top HHS official said. This would change Obama regulations that required medical providers to treat such patients, though the Trump administration's proposed rules are still being drafted, according to The New York Times.

"When the director of the office of civil rights is quoted as saying that 'No physician should have to choose between helping a sick person or following their personal conscience, ' the director is simply wrong". The OCR's new division will help make that vision a reality, he said. This includes the Weldon Amendment, which stipulates that states receiving federal funds can not discriminate against health plans that do not cover or pay for abortions.

Several speakers spoke of a new era under President Trump without government interference, as opposed to President Barack Obama and the ACA requirement that most employers cover birth control in their health insurance plans. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, mentioned his own state's law which requires licensed pregnancy centers-even though with a religious affiliation-to offer information about contraception, abortion and prenatal care options, though not to provide them.

Also speaking at today's announcement was Montse Alvarado, the Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who explained to CNA what this new division will mean for Catholic healthcare professionals across the country.

LGBTQ groups also condemned the move, promising to fight the new division.

"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday moved to broaden those narrow religious exemptions to include an exception "on the basis of moral conviction" for non-profit and for-profit companies".

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have new, stronger federal protections if they have religious and moral objections to performing certain procedures, such as abortion, assisted suicide or treating transgender patients.

The Trump administration just made it easier for doctors to deny care to women and LGBT people.

Penny Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America praised the new division.

Denying patients health care is not liberty. "This is the latest example of this administration's efforts to block women, transgender people, and other marginalized communities from accessing health care", Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government relations for Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

"Too many of these healthcare practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against due to their religious beliefs or moral convictions", Hargan said at the event.

This probably won't be a huge issue in large facilities or areas with many health care options, but for those who live in underserved or rural areas, critics say it could jeopardize patients' health.

The announcement follows an executive order signed by President Donald Trump last May, dictating the executive branch will "vigorously enforce federal law's robust protections for religious freedoms".

For individuals who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, the survey found eight percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to see them due to their sexual orientation.

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