President Donald Trump is launching a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect nurses and doctors who don’t want to perform abortions.
President George W Bush first issued conscience protections for pro-life doctors and other medical workers who did not want to participate in abortions. But President Barack Obama rescinded those protections and created a situation where pro-life medical workers and others who don’t want to be involved in abortions are pressured to do so.
Now, President Trump is pushing forward with a new effort to protect doctors and healthcare workers from being forced or pressured to perform abortions. The division will protect anyone who has a “moral objection” to involvement in an abortion because it kills an unborn child before birth.
“President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan said in a release Wednesday night. “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 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,” he added.
OCR already has enforcement authority over federal conscience protection statutes, such as the Church, Coats-Snowe, and Weldon Amendments; Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act (on assisted suicide); and certain federal nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion in a variety of HHS programs.
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OCR Director Roger Severino said, “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.”
The Washington Post has more:
Specific details are scheduled to be announced Thursday. But the new policy appears to be broad and aimed at protecting health-care workers who cite those reasons for refusing to take part in abortions, treat transgender patients or participate in other types of care.
Conservative groups praised the move Wednesday as upholding providers’ right to religious liberty.
“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.
The previous administration, Christensen said, had “significantly narrowed enforcement of the laws” in place to safeguard those who oppose abortion or hold other religious convictions.
Naturally, Planned Parenthood opposes the policy and wants to force doctors and nurses to do abortions.
“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.
But leading pro-life groups hailed the decision in comments to LifeNews:
Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) President Marjorie Dannenfelser welcomed the news:
“We thank President Trump for standing up in bold defense of conscience rights. This Administration realizes that abortion is a highly controversial, brutal act against unborn children and their mothers and affirms the right of all Americans not to be forced to participate in abortion. This is a welcome change from the Obama administration’s stubborn refusal to enforce federal laws that prohibit discrimination against health care entities.
“We also urge the administration to release new regulations further clarifying the laws this division will enforce. This is an essential step to protect pro-life nurses like Cathy DeCarlo, who was threatened with the loss of her job if she didn’t assist in a traumatic late-term abortion, and other health care professionals from being forced to participate in the destruction of innocent lives. We also continue to urge Congress to enact a private right of action so victims will be able to seek relief in court regardless of who is in the White House.”
Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver said, “The establishment of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division by the Department of Health and Human Services within its Office for Civil Rights is an historic and positive step by the Trump administration to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience. The Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration was hostile to conscience and religious freedom rights. Today’s announcement is refreshing and exciting”
“Religious freedom is our first freedom and I welcome the news that HHS is committed to protecting our precious freedom. The Trump administration is to be commended for making this 180-degree turn from the past administration which used the federal government to violate religious freedom and conscience rather than protecting them. This move sends a strong message that there must be a commitment to protecting religious freedom,” said Staver.