The Trump administration will create an office to protect medical providers with moral or religious opposition to procedures such as abortion and assisted suicide, according to ABC News.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday it will form a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office for Civil Rights. The OCR is the law enforcement agency within the department that enforces federal civil rights laws.
HHS said in a statement the new office will focus on enforcing existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom. Existing law already prevents the federal government from discriminating against medical providers for refusing to participate in abortion procedures as a matter of conscience, but some health care professionals recently alleged they have been coerced by their employers to participate in such procedures.
Roger Severino, director of HHS’ Office of Civil Rights, said in a statement that “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced.”
“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,” Severino said. “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.”
Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement that Trump “promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom.”
“That promise is being kept today,” Hargan said. “The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”
Some critics said that the move would undermine women’s access to abortion or impact the medical care of LGBT individuals.
In a statement provided to ABC News, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the move was “yet another attempt to let ideology dictate who is able to get the care they need.”
“Any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their wellbeing for ideological reasons is unacceptable,” Murray said.