US: President touts new faith-based protections for health-care workers

During a speech Thursday before faith leaders, President Trump announced a new rule allowing health providers, insurers and employers to refuse to provide or pay for services such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide that they say violate their religious or moral beliefs.

The 440-page rule is broad in scope, spelling out specific services that individuals and entities could refrain from providing or paying for based on their beliefs. It also emphasizes parents’ rights to refuse several specific types of care for their children.

Conservative groups welcomed what they call “conscience protections” for health care workers and others, while LGBTQ and women’s groups warned the rule would reduce services and potentially harm patients if providers refuse to deliver certain care, or treat gay and transgender people.

“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. … Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.” Religious conservatives counter that such protections are necessary because of increasing mandates to provide care and ineffectual enforcement of existing statutes protecting workers.

“No health-care worker should ever be forced to choose between their practice or their faith,” said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at the Catholic Association. “That principle is enshrined in countless laws and regulations but has been violated for far too long.”

Trump’s remarks on the National Day of Prayer were the third time he has used the 67-year-old annual multifaith observance to make announcements addressing the concerns of Christian conservatives, who are a large part of his base. During his first year in office, he promised to make it easier for religious leaders to speak openly about politics. On Thursday, he said the Johnson Amendment, which prevents churches from endorsing political candidates, has been effectively eliminated, though it would take an act of Congress to officially strike it.

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