The Trump Administration on Jan. 19 proposed a new rule that would allow health care providers to use religion as an excuse to refuse to provide medical care to patients.
Citing Trump’s “pro-life mission” and timed to coincide with the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C., the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the rule would protect the “conscience rights” of health care workers who think they are being punished or facing discrimination because of their moral or religious beliefs.
AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett said the proposal misused the principle of religious freedom as justification for discrimination.
“The Trump administration is taking yet another step to elevate the religious beliefs of health care providers above the medical needs of patients. The rule puts patients’ health and well-being in jeopardy and could cause serious harm to those denied critical and lifesaving care,” Garrett said.
“Women and LGBTQ patients are clearly the target of today’s discriminatory rule, but its reach goes even further and could negatively affect the health care of many others,” Garrett added.
The rule was proposed the day after HHS announced its Office for Civil Rights had created a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division to review complaints from health care workers who claim they’ve been pressured to provide medical care that conflicts with their religious beliefs.
While HHS’s proposed rule and new division is thought to benefit primarily doctors, nurses and other health care providers who object to performing abortions or assisting transgender people with transition-related services, Garrett noted the rule could be used to deny a woman experiencing a miscarriage a life-saving abortion or to refuse to treat a transgender patient even if the care is unrelated to transitioning.
“It is hard to underestimate just how much damage this new division could cause under this administration,” Garrett said.
An AU statement noted the rule was likely to prompt more litigation, similar to the lawsuits filed by AU and others over the Trump administration’s rule that would allow employers and universities to cite religious beliefs to deny women access to birth-control coverage in their insurance plans.
Trump addressed the annual anti-abortion rally by video, becoming the first sitting president to do so.