Religious discrimination urged by Trump rule
The Trump administration has unleashed turbo-charged rules providing greater legal protection for American health workers who refuse to perform services that they object to on moral or religious grounds, Politico reported.
“For too long, too many of these health-care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against [when they oppose treatments that offend their morals],” Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan told The Washington Post.
The bottom line is that the rules allow discrimination against Americans not for evidence-based actualities (e.g., gender expression is not a binary—boy/girl—reality but exists along a normal and broad continuum) but strictly for spiritual presumptions.
Of note is that many of the nation’s hospitals, health clinics and hospices are run by faith-based groups and effectively operate as public institutions that are supposed to serve everyone. Hargan says these institutions have long felt “forced” to provide services that violate their beliefs. He says nothing about opposed patients whose medical needs won’t be met.
Politico reports that the rules are part of an expanded plan at the civil rights office of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to legally shelter conscience-stricken workers who decline to perform abortions, treat transgender patients during the transition process, or deliver other services they personally consider beyond the pale of their morals or faith. This would include doctors, nurses and hospice caregivers.
The ethical problem, though, is that in protecting one person’s moral and religious sensibilities, another person, who thinks differently, can be discriminated against. For example, free contraception medications under existing federally authorized health benefits can legally be made unavailable to women by employers who do not approve of contraception, despite its federal legality. The new HHS rules will make it easier for health workers with moral objections to refuse to perform specific services, such as legal abortion or gender reassignment surgery, for specific types of patients, such as gay or transgender people.
In addition, Politico notes, HHS’s civil rights office would be empowered “to punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their religious and moral objections.” Trump appointee Roger Severino, who currently heads the department’s civil rights section, “has repeatedly stressed that strengthening conscience protections for health care workers is a top priority for his office,” according to Politico. Severino has long advocated for religious organizations and against LGBT protections, including as a plaintiff lawyer in cases opposing same-sex marriage.
“On the basis of religious teachings, moral reasoning, scientific evidence, and medical experience, many have strong grounds to hold that one’s sex is an immutable characteristic,” Severino and a co-author wrote in a 2016 Heritage Foundation report.
On the other hand, science has compellingly demonstrated that those views are nonsense. Sexually, far from being white and black, boy and girl, exists in various permutations along a broad continuum. But that reality seems to offend conservatives who continue to insist gender biology and expression must be rigidly binary, which it clearly isn’t. And harming people in the process appears to be no obstacle.
During the presidency of Barack Obama, such so-called religious-freedom protections, instituted by the George W. Bush administration, were rolled back for health workers who discriminated against patients.
Unsurprisingly, the new enhanced rules have alarmed LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) patients, who fear these mandates will only increase the stigmas and discrimination they already endure in society.
“This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are,” said Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality told Politico. “Any rule that grants a license to discriminate would be a disgrace and a mockery of the principal of religious freedom we all cherish.”
On the other hand, advocates view the “conscience protections” as a no-brainer necessity for caregivers and long overdue. Melanie Israel of the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Politico, “Ensuring that HHS funds do not support morally coercive or discriminatory practices or policies in violation of federal law should not be remotely controversial.”
The rules reportedly will establish a new division of the civil rights office to conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement measures to allow health-care workers to legally refuse performing certain medical procedures on specific patients. The new division would also offer outreach support to people who seek to empower workers with moral and religious hesitations.
HHS’s civil rights office has “broad authority” to interpret freedom-of-religion statutes, according to Politico, and this would allow it to “substantially expand the scope of current conscience rules without an act of Congress.”
However, relevant patient and legal groups say they will challenge the rules if care-givers are allowed to deny service due under gender or gender-expression criteria. “Should the administration choose to move forward to implement a discriminatory policy, we will see them in court,” Louise Melling, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement submitted to Politico.
Note: Thanks to Karen Engelhardt of Siouxland Freethinkers, Sioux Falls, SD, for the tip.