WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s move last week to protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions and other medical procedures on religious or moral grounds is raising fears among some civil rights and medical groups that it will provide legal cover for otherwise unlawful discrimination, Reuters and other outlets report.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office of Civil Rights to enforce the rights of doctors, nurses and others who invoke such objections, Reuters reports.
James Blumstein, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School in Tennessee, told Reuters the administration’s plan could remedy what he described as years of overreach by the federal government fighting discrimination against patients at the expense of the religious freedom of health care professionals.
“I think there has been an insensitivity on the secular side,” Blumstein said in an interview with Reuters.
Critics of the move predicted the new division, whose creation was praised by conservative Christian advocacy groups that have strongly supported Republican President Donald Trump, would become embroiled in current litigation over whether health care workers can deny care to women seeking abortions or birth control as well as gay and transgender patients, Reuters reports.
Existing federal and state laws protect health care workers who express religious objections to performing abortions and certain other procedures. HHS said the new division would focus on enforcing those laws, Reuters reports.
Critics said the division’s creation could encourage a broader range of religious objections, with a potentially strong impact on less-settled areas of the law like the status of gay and transgender individuals under anti-discrimination statutes, Reuters reports.