The Trump administration is considering a new “religious freedom” rule that would allow healthcare workers to refuse to treat LGBT patients. The move would also allow workers to deny care to a woman seeking an abortion or any other service they morally oppose.
Roger Severino, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, has actively opposed civil rights protections for minority communities. In his previous role as Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society for the conservative Heritage Foundation, Severino spoke out against the regulations he is now tasked with upholding.
The rule would create a new division of the civil rights office that would be tasked with ensuring health care workers are given a license to discriminate. The division would also be responsible for outreach and technical support for religious right organizations that oppose LGBT equality and abortion.
The Obama administration overturned Bush-era rules that allowed health care professionals to cite their religious beliefs to deny care. The rules were used as justification for denying fertility treatment to lesbian couples and an ambulance driver’s refusal to take a transgender woman to the hospital. The woman died before being seen by a doctor.
“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 recent Heritage Foundation report. “Many involved in providing medical care and those enrolled in health insurance plans have serious objections to participating in or paying for sex-reassignment surgeries or gender transitions.”
“He has made attacking women’s and LGBT people’s access to health care one of the centerpieces of his career,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said when Severino was appointed to the position, “while his baseless claims about protections for transgender people – repeated over and over without any regard for the consequences on transgender people’s lives – betray a fundamental misunderstanding of federal civil rights laws, medical science, the reality of what it means to be transgender.”
The department was recently caught selectively publishing public comments on how to tweak regulations supporting transgender protections. To bolster the case for the religious right’s license to discriminate, the agency published an overwhelming number of comments in support of the measure while hiding the more numerous opposition to the proposed changes.
The changes are expected to be announced as early as this week.