The United States Department of Health and Human Services announced a new division of its services today (18 January). The entity’s mission is to ‘enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans’. Now, they’re forming the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
As explained in their press release, the division aims to ‘restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom’.
‘No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions,’ said OCR Director Roger Severino. ‘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.’
Essentially, healthcare workers can now refuse to treat patients or perform certain tasks based on their beliefs.
This includes operations like abortions or treating transgender individuals.
It directly reverses an Obama-era policy barring this exact type of exemption.
‘That is not religious freedom; it is tyranny’
Many LGBTI organizations have condemned the new division. They believe it will severely limit LGBTI people’s equal access to healthcare.
Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said: ‘This effectively eviscerates the very purpose of Department of Health and Human Services to protect the health of all Americans and provide essential human services, especially for those least able to help themselves.
‘Nothing about today’s action is ‘moral’ or ‘civil.’ It is clear to even the most casual observer that this is the Republican Administration’s latest bald-faced attempt to appease the most extreme elements of their ever-shrinking base. This is an attack on our civil rights, allowing one person’s extreme religious beliefs to be forced upon people of all faiths and anyone who simply does not share them. That is not religious freedom; it is religious tyranny.’
One Iowa’s Executive Director Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel doubled down. He said religious freedom is a common phrase ‘used to make discrimination against LGBTQ people sound more palatable’.