The Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division today, demonstrating the administration’s commitment to laws that license discrimination against women, LGBT people, and others. The broad language could open the door for health care institutions and providers to refuse to treat women seeking abortions, people seeking sterilizations, and others.
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, had the following reaction: “Today’s announcement shows us, once again, that the administration is doubling down on licensing discrimination against women and LGBT people, all in the name of religion. The administration has already shown its hand earlier this year by adopting rules that permit virtually all manner of businesses to refuse to comply with laws providing contraception coverage.
“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 the health and civil rights of women, transgender people, and others. They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives. This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force issued the following statement: “We are not fooled: The new office announced this morning is meant to make it easier for people to discriminate, not to protect people of faith. Health professionals have a duty to care for all their patients regardless of one’s gender identity, sexual orientation, faith, creed, race, political views, gender, or disability, and no one should be denied care for being who they are.
“The overwhelming majority of people of faith support health care access for women and LGBTQ people. There is no contradiction between meeting your duty to care for all people and living by your moral and religious conviction. All people deserve access to care, including transgender people, those seeking assisted suicide, and those seeking reproductive health services such as an abortion or sterilization.”
“It’s painfully ironic that this decision comes on the heels of a national training we held this week for our state-based equality organizations on how to work with hospitals to improve their nondiscrimination policies,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation. “Imagine going to the doctor and being denied service because of who is in your family or because you are living with HIV. It’s unconscionable that anyone should be afraid that when they are sick or in need of urgent medical care they could be turned away. Freedom of religion is important to all of us, but it should not equate to a license to discriminate against those in need.”