A recent move by the Trump administration has earned both criticism and praise. According to NPR News, healthcare workers who want to refuse a treatment because of religious or moral beliefs will, thanks to the Trump administration, receive new legal protections.
The Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, managed by top civil rights officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, will soon be formed. This new division will protect doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers who want to refuse abortion or other medical procedures that violate religious teachings.
LifeSite News writes that the new division primarily seeks to enforce "laws and regulations that protect conscience and prohibit coercion on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide." It will also, according to LifeSite, enforce laws that protect "the free exercise of religion and prohibit discrimination."
According to NPR, this recent move by Trump reverses an Obama-era policy that prevented health workers from refusing to treat transgender individuals or people seeking abortions. Obama's rule was challenged in court by Franciscan Alliance, an organization located in Texas, leading a judge to block enforcement in 2016.
Indeed, Trump's new policy seeks to reverse the Obama-era effort to shrink the enforcement of conscience protection and religious liberty in the healthcare field.
"The new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division signals an important change for the OCR, which also oversees enforcement of laws concerning security and privacy of people’s health information," writes LifeSite News. "It brings back to the forefront enforcement of conscience and religious liberty laws in the healthcare field, an about-face from the stance of the Obama Administration."
"For too long too many of these healthcare practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral conviction," remarked HHS Secretary Eric Hargan on Thursday.
Roger Severino, the Director of the Office for Civil Rights and HHS, claims that the creation of this new division means that healthcare workers no longer need to shed their moral convictions in order to be part of the public square.
According to LifeSite, religious liberty advocates and pro-life groups in the United States are welcoming this new division. Social conservatives have been seeking for increased conscience protections for decades, especially after Obama's February 2011 repeal of conscience protection regulations that had been put into place by President George W. Bush.
Under Obama, HHS replaced a rule originally implemented by Bush, which allowed medical workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services. Obama's narrower version of the bill, which represented a narrower definition of "religious liberty," left in place only long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions, sterilizations, or other similar procedures.
According to the Washington Post, so-called "conscience protections" have been a controversial point in the culture war debates, especially about contraception and LGBTQ rights in the past decade.
In October 2017, the Trump administration also reversed the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. In particular, Trump announced that the administration will grant "full protection" to companies and organizations that have "religious or moral objections" to providing contraception to their employees.
Challenged by Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor, among numerous other groups, the contraception mandate required employers who provide health insurance to cover contraceptives. This Obama-era policy didn't accommodate religiously-affiliated groups, churches, or places of worship.
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