US: New HHS civil rights division charged with protecting health-care workers with moral objections

A new civil rights division within the Department of Health and Human Services will protect health-care workers who refuse to provide services that run counter to their moral or religious convictions, the Trump administration announced Thursday.

This office will consider complaints from doctors, nurses and others who feel they have been pressured by employers to “perform, accommodate or assist with” procedures that violate their beliefs. If a complaint about coercion or retribution is found to be valid, an entity receiving federal dollars could have that funding revoked.

The administration’s move marks the resurgence of religious liberty advocates within the federal government and represents its latest effort to elevate “conscience protections” within the health care realm. Conservative groups welcomed the action while critics warned it could lead to discrimination on the basis of sex as well as gender identity and sexual orientation. “There’s every reason to think that this administration is going to place religious objections over the health and lives and rights of individuals,” Melling said.

Yet medical organizations and women's and LGBT rights groups expressed concern that the policy will hurt vulnerable populations and create an unequal system of health care. The Obama administration had bolstered civil rights protections in health care, including barring medical providers and insurers from discriminating in services or access to coverage based on gender as well as gender identity.

Kelli Garcia, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, said “the wording on the rule creating the office appears to open the door for discrimination against patients because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or a whole host of other reasons.” Read more via Washington Post