The Trump administration is creating an office to protect the religious rights of medical providers, including those who may oppose abortion or transgender rights, in a decision that is likely to be a lightning rod for controversy.
Cassidy is a cosponsor of the Conscience Protection Act (S. 301), legislation that would protect health care providers, including healthcare professionals, entities and health insurance plans from government discrimination if they decline to facilitate abortions.
An Obama-era policy had been established which required health workers to treat all patients, regardless of their personal beliefs, particularly with regard to performing abortions.
"We may not know exactly what this new division will look like in practice, but we do know that this means they prioritize religious liberty over women, transgender people and others", said Louise Melling, the American Civil Liberties Union's deputy legal director. He said the new division would "help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice". These are included in the Church Amendments, the Public Health Service Act, the Weldon Amendment, and the Affordable Care Act. The most notable instance was in October of 2017 when the agency green-lighted employers' right to refuse to pay for the coverage of birth control.
However, some commenters have pointed out that a healthcare worker might have a religious objection to assisting the transgender patient in the transition itself (for example, by assisting in a hysterectomy performed on a transgender man, or prescribing or administering male hormones to him). This represents a rollback of policies put in by former President Obama and shift away from the HHS's current focus on maintaining and enforcing federal civil rights and healthcare privacy laws. The new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will simply be enforcing important bi-partisan conscience protection laws that have been on the books, in some cases, for decades.
David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, called the new division "totally unnecessary".
To Americans who are concerned that they have experienced a violation of their conscience rights, Severino said, "We are going to make it as user-friendly as possible, so that people know that the doors are open and that every complaint will be treated appropriately and given the attention it deserves and then those that require enforcement will be handled appropriately". It is a return to a country, "free from government intrusion", she said. There is no contradiction between meeting your duty to care for all people and living by your moral and religious conviction. "Health care professionals should be freed up to care for the bodies and minds of their patients, not tied up by having their own consciences bound".
But Decker says the administration's move doesn't protect conscience "but instead weaponizes it, turning religious belief into yet another barrier between vulnerable patients and the health care they need". The Catholic Health Association, which has in the past raised concerns about the implications of HHS rule makings on faith-based providers, also did not return a request for comment.
According to reports, the new division within the Department of Health and Human Services will be devoted to "conscience and religious freedom". They are also the only ones licensed to provide those services and must do so without discrimination, she said.