UPDATE: The administration has officially announced the formation of a new division intended to allow healthcare providers to discriminate against LGBT people and women seeking an abortion.
The Trump administration is considering a new “religious freedom” rule that would allow healthcare workers to refuse to treat LGBT patients. The move would also allow workers to deny care to a woman seeking an abortion or any other service they morally oppose.
Roger Severino, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, has actively opposed civil rights protections for minority communities. In his previous role as Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society for the conservative Heritage Foundation, Severino spoke out against the regulations he is now tasked with upholding.
The proposed rule, which has been closely guarded at HHS according to Politico, is under review by the White House currently. The administration declared yesterday “National Religious Freedom Day.”
The rule would create a new division of the civil rights office that would be tasked with ensuring health care workers are given a license to discriminate. The division would also be responsible for outreach and technical support for religious right organizations that oppose LGBT equality and abortion.
The Obama administration overturned Bush-era rules that allowed health care professionals to cite their religious beliefs to deny care. The rules were used as justification for denying fertility treatment to lesbian couples and an ambulance driver’s refusal to take a transgender woman to the hospital. The woman died before being seen by a doctor.
The proposed rule would also allow doctors and nurses to refuse treatment for HIV and AIDS.
“On the basis of religious teachings, moral reasoning, scientific evidence, and medical experience, many have strong grounds to hold that one’s sex is an immutable characteristic,” Severino and a co-author wrote in a recent Heritage Foundation report. “Many involved in providing medical care and those enrolled in health insurance plans have serious objections to participating in or paying for sex-reassignment surgeries or gender transitions.”
“He has made attacking women’s and LGBT people’s access to health care one of the centerpieces of his career,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said when Severino was appointed to the position, “while his baseless claims about protections for transgender people – repeated over and over without any regard for the consequences on transgender people’s lives – betray a fundamental misunderstanding of federal civil rights laws, medical science, the reality of what it means to be transgender.”
The department was recently caught selectively publishing public comments on how to tweak regulations supporting transgender protections. To bolster the case for the religious right’s license to discriminate, the agency published an overwhelming number of comments in support of the measure while hiding the more numerous opposition to the proposed changes.
The changes are expected to be announced as early as this week.
“It wasn’t enough to try to strip transgender Americans of their right to serve, roll back access to birth control, and attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Now Trump, Pence, and their Republican cronies want to allow health care workers to discriminate and rip away access to medical care. This rule is unethical and dangerously undermines public health,” DNC Director of LGBTQ Media Lucas Acosta said in an emailed statement.
“This proposal is further proof that Republicans continue to push forward an agenda completely out of step with the American people and American ideals. Democrats will continue to focus on how to improve access to health care for all Americans regardless of gender, orientation, or income.”