Administration Creates New Religious Protections for Health Workers

In this Jan. 14, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump, right, accompanied by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to members of the media as they arrive for a dinner at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(CN) – The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will create new protections for health workers who have religious and moral objections to certain procedures such as abortion or assisted suicide.

In a statement published on its website, the Department of Health and Human Services said it is forming a new division under the Office of Civil Rights.

The new division, to be called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, will be responsible for investigating complaints filed by workers claiming that their employers have violated their religious rights.

In a notice published in Thursday’s Federal Register, the department said the division will ensure “individuals and institutions can exercise their conscience and religious freedom rights, OCR furthers justice and tolerance in a pluralistic society.”

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “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,” he said.

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate’s health committee, said Thursday morning she is “deeply troubled by reports of the unconscionable approach being considered by President Trump’s Administration to use the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services as a tool to restrict access to health care for people who are transgender and women.

“This would be yet another attempt to let ideology dictate who is able to get the care they need,” she continued. “Any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their wellbeing for ideological reasons is unacceptable. We need to work to ensure everyone has access to quality, affordable health care, no matter who they are.”

The new rules — a priority for anti-abortion groups and supporters — come just before Friday’s March for Life, the annual gathering in Washington marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

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