A new conscience and religious-freedom division within the Healthand Human Services Department is being launched to aid doctors,nurses and other medical professionals in refusing to provideservices that violate their moral or religious beliefs.

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The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration intends the new divisionto protect health care workers who claim moral or religious beliefsas their reason to refuse to take part in abortions, treat transgender patients or participate in othertypes of care.

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While conservative groups have applauded the action, a number ofgroups, including those that defend women’s and LGBT rights, aswell as physician groups, are instead concerned that the new policywill increase discrimination against vulnerable populations andworsen inequities within health care. Many also view it as a majorcivil rights rollback, rather than a protection of such rights,according to the report.

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“This will impose a broad religious refusal policy that willallow individuals and institutions to deny basic care for women andtransgender people,” Dana Singiser, vice president of governmentaffairs for Planned Parenthood, is quoted saying in the report.Singiser adds, “We know from experience that denial of carecompromises care.”

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The enforcement authority of the new division bolsters andexpands so-called “conscience protections” that were initially putin place by George W. Bush but ended by the Obama administration.The new division, the report says, will be part of the HHS Officefor Civil Rights. It will not only accept complaints from healthcare professionals but also ensure that hospitals, clinics andother institutions nationwide are accommodating their beliefs.

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An outgrowth of the expansion of “religious liberty” in a Trumpexecutive order last year, which led to substantial religious andmoral exemptions to the Affordable Care Act mandate that employersprovide no-cost contraception coverage, the new department focusesHHS’s position in implementing “conscience protections.”

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While such “protections” have been in existence for decades, thereport says, some health care providers have said they didn’t gofar enough; the administration’s actions push the envelope—fartherthan what Harper Jean Tobin, the National Center for TransgenderEquality’s director of policy, said in the report were “reasonableaccommodations.”

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Tobin adds, “The vast majority of the medical community isagainst any form of license to discriminate. That theadministration is rushing out such a momentous rule in secret,hiding behind a vague description and potentially circumventingnormal procedures, just underscores how far they have been strayingfrom established law in this area.”

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Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign,says in the report that the policy seeks to “devalue the humanityof LGBTQ people.”

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Warbelow is quoted saying, “Every American deserves access tomedically necessary health care, and that health care should not bedetermined by the personal opinions of individual health careproviders or administrative staff.”

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Ben Brown, a gynecologist-obstetrician in Chicago and a fellowwith Physicians for Reproductive Health, says in the report thatthe administration’s new rule seems to contravene the oaths takenby health care providers on entry into the profession, as well asethics policies at many hospitals and state statutes in many partsof the country that require basic care be delivered to those whoneed it. He’s quoted saying, “Imposing their values on a patient isnot in consort with our professional job as doctors.”

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And Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American CivilLiberties Union, is cited in the report saying that federalemployment law does allow workplaces to accommodate individuals’beliefs—as long as those accommodations don’t impose unduehardship.

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Says Melling, “Religious liberty gives you a right to yourbeliefs, but it doesn’t give you the right to impose your beliefson others or harm others, including to discriminate againstothers.”

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