Consistent with media reports indicating the move was coming, the Department of Health & Human Services on Thursday formally established a conscience division that critics say will allow medical practitioners to deny abortion-related services and treatment to LGBT people on religious grounds.
Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation scholar and now director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement the new agency — called the Conscience & Religious Freedom Division — will help enforcement of laws designed to protect religious freedom.
“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” Severino said. “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.”
The new division was unveiled Thursday at HHS in an event with both Hargan and Severino as well as members of Congress who have anti-LGBT records, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
But LGBT groups decried the establishment of the Conscience & Religious Freedom Division on the basis that it would enable religious objectors to refuse to treat transgender people or provide abortion-related services.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement the new division is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“We are not fooled: The new office announced this morning is meant to make it easier for people to discriminate, not to protect people of faith,” Carey said. “Health professionals have a duty to care for all their patients regardless of one’s gender identity, sexual orientation, faith, creed, race, political views, gender or disability, and no one should be denied care for being who they are.” Read more via Washington Blade