Health Law

Health-care workers with moral or religious objections have support of new HHS division

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The Department of Health and Human Services has a new division to help protect health-care workers with moral or religious objections to providing certain types of care.

The agency’s website gives examples of the types of procedures that could spur objections: abortions, sterilization and assisted suicide, the Washington Post reports. But some say the broad language could also cover objections to treatment for transgender patients seeking sex reassignment surgery.

Others raised fears that doctors would refuse to provide fertility treatments to lesbians or pharmacists would refuse to provide certain types of contraceptives, the New York Times reports.

The new division, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, will be part of the HHS Office of Civil Rights, according to a press release. The Wall Street Journal, Politico and NPR also have stories.

The announcement represents a change from Obama administration policy that barred health-care workers at facilities receiving federal funds from refusing to treat people who are transgender or seeking abortions. That policy was never carried out because of an injunction by a Texas judge.

The Trump administration has indicated it will change the never-enforced regulation. The change is expected to allow health workers to refuse to perform abortions or services related to gender transitions, according to the Journal.

Legal challenges are expected to be filed by opponents of the new division. NPR cites a statement by Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Denying patients health care is not liberty,” Melling said. “Choosing your patients based on their gender or gender expression is not freedom.”

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