Last November, the Trump administration rolled back the Obama-era policy requiring that all health-care insurance policies cover birth control at no cost for women.
Instead, a company or nonprofit group could choose a program that doesn’t offer contraception coverage if it violates their religious and moral objections.
This was one of the many steps that President Donald Trump made to implement policy to restore religious freedom.
The Trump administration has announced a newly created conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department (HHS.) This organization will help to protect healthcare workers who don’t want to be forced to take part in procedures, like abortions or treating transgender patients because it goes against their religious beliefs.
The division will be investigating complaints and will be taking a hands-on approach to ensuring that hospitals and clinics are accommodating health workers’ beliefs.
“Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pleased to announce the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The announcement will take place at an event at HHS headquarters from 10:30 a.m. to noon. It will be livestreamed here. Speakers will include Acting Secretary Eric D. Hargan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Representative Vicky Hartzler, Senator James Lankford, OCR Director Roger Severino, and special guests,” wrote the HHS about Thursday’s announcement event.
Conservative groups have applauded the decision and is hopeful to finally have a president who is making moves to protect their perspective.
“We think the Trump administration should set an example in enforcing the multiple conscience laws that have been passed since the 1970s to prevent the government from punishing people who have objections to participating in abortions,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council to the Washington Post.
However, Women’s and LGBT rights groups are already condemning the policy claiming it will lead to more providers refusing treatment.
“This will impose a broad religious refusal policy that will allow individuals and institutions to deny basic care for women and transgender people. We know from experience that denial of care compromises care,” said Dana Singiser, vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood.
Critics argue that imposing their beliefs as a healthcare professional on their patients violates their obligation to provide care.
“Health care workers have a professional and ethical obligation to provide health care to all who need it,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign. “Every American deserves access to medically necessary health care, and that health care should not be determined by the personal opinions of individual health care providers or administrative staff.”
Warbelow also said the move “would be another harmful attack on LGBTQ people by Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”
Proponents argue that the division is needed to uphold the right of religious freedom so cases like Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo’s recent one won’t continue to occur.
“In 2009, Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, was forced to assist in a second-term abortion or face disciplinary action. She sued, but a court rejected her claim that Mount Sinai had violated federal protections because it received nearly $375 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health. DeCarlo’s complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights was not addressed until 2013, when the hospital changed its policies and procedures so employees were no longer forced to participate in abortions over their objections,” writes the Washington Post.
“We look forward to seeing protections for pro-life nurses like Cathy DeCarlo . . . and other health care professionals from being forced to participate in the destruction of innocent lives,” said Mallory Quigley, communications director for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List.
Now, hospitals and clinics will be held accountable and will have to implement policies to protect their employees’ religious freedom.
“The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom. OCR is the law enforcement agency within HHS that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people’s health information. The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights,” writes the HHS.
“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now,” said Severino, OCR director.
“President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” Eric Hargan, HHS Acting Secretary on Wednesday in a statement. “That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”
The division was officially unveiled right before Friday’s March for Life, where Trump will be the first first president to give a speech via video satellite at the pro-life gathering.
Author’s note: Finally, the conservative viewpoint is being protected and not brushed off, like it was during the Obama-era. Many of Obama’s policies are being reversed in favor of religious freedom. Trump has kept yet another campaign promise.