The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at HHS could be highly problematic.
In 2018 the Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. The stated purpose of the division is to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”
At the event announcing the division’s formation, OCR Director Roger Severino stated 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. 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.”
The basic purpose of the division is to protect healthcare workers from discrimination if they refuse to participate in abortions, based on their religious convictions. This seems reasonable enough on the surface. As long as the protections do not block a woman’s adequate and reasonable access to their constitutional right to obtain an abortion, the wishes of healthcare workers based on religious grounds should be not only allowed, but respected without malice. Abortion is a deeply personal issue on both sides of the debate for those truly torn by its implications, as opposed to those that would simply use the issue for political purposes.
Clear distinctions must be drawn however to insure that protecting a healthcare worker’s legitimate opposition to participating in abortions does not become the government’s open door into fostering situations that limit or prevent women (particularly poor women) from finding adequate options for obtaining an abortion.
The proverbial slippery slope comes into play as well. Where does the line get drawn on not treating people based on religious objections? Does this also become a part of President Trump’s covert attacks on the LGBTQ community to prop up his standing with the hypocritical so-called evangelicals? Could physicians now refuse to provide care for transgender people, same-sex couples, and gay and lesbian people, because of religious beliefs? Do they really think that Jesus would refuse care for anyone in need?
If they are to be consistent, would they then also refuse care to anyone who’s divorced, remarried, had sex out of marriage, had an affair? The list of those not to be treated goes on. I consider myself a religious person, so I am not against religious convictions. I am against the staggering amount of religious hypocrisy on display every day by self-proclaimed evangelicals that act exactly like the Pharisees that Jesus spoke out against.
Again, I sincerely respect the true convictions of those that choose to help others selflessly in the healthcare field as long as protecting their convictions doesn’t become yet another avenue to restrict constitutionally protected rights, or to marginalize our fellow citizens based on gender or sexual orientation.