HHS is expected to unveil 'conscience protections' for health care workers

Elias Hubbard
January 18, 2018

The Trump administration is planning to broaden the so-called conscience protections for health care workers who object to participating in certain procedures, a move that could result in denial of care to LGBT people or women seeking contraceptives or abortions.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of a new and unsafe 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.

The report comes as the House of Representatives is set to vote on legislation on Friday that would inflict criminal penalties on doctors who don't provide proper medical care to infants who survive abortions.

A number of women's and LGBT rights and physician groups expressed worry that such a division would further discriminate against vulnerable populations and worsen inequities within health care. That would be a significant shift for the office, which now focuses on enforcing federal civil rights and health care privacy laws... "This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are", Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality told Politico". "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 risky. Trump, Pence, and Trump's appointees have tried time and again to establish blatantly bigoted policies that harm transgender and gender non-conforming Americans, and history will neither forget nor forgive this Administration's attacks on its own people". "Health care workers have a professional and ethical obligation to provide health care to all who need it", said Sarah Warbelow, HRC legal director, in a press release.

News of the move led to outrage among several groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union - both of which pledged to fight the rule.

The Trump administration has broken with its predecessor on several fronts in this area, and remains in a legal battle over a decision a year ago to undo the contraceptive mandate under Obamacare, which requires employers to provide employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives. Days before the anniversary of the Women's March, Republicans are giving health workers a license to discriminate against women and members of the LGBTQ community.

Roger Severino, Trump's highly controversial Director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services, reportedly is spearheading a reorganization of the division to enforce compliance and dole out punishments to organizations that might violate the new protections.

"Conscience" protections have been around for decades, whether in state statutes or as part of hospital policies, but some health-care providers have said those have not been enough to protect them.

Now being reviewed at the White House Office of Management and Budget, the new rules could reportedly come this week.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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