Published: Sun, January 21, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Cardinal, Archbishop Praise New HHS Conscience Protection Policies

Cardinal, Archbishop Praise New HHS Conscience Protection Policies

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.

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. They maintain there is an abundance of providers who would step in.

Among some of the proposed rule's more egregious provisions are: a commitment not only to investigate complaints received, but also to investigate based on news reports, a thinly-veiled threat to cut off federal funding to states such as California that allow insurance coverage for abortions, and a vastly-expanded definition of what it means to assist in the performance of a health care procedure. She said that she experienced discrimination in an interview process because of her membership in a pro-life medical association. Since President Trump took office, OCR has stepped up enforcement of these conscience statutes, many of which saw little to no enforcement activity under the previous administration.

Severino told EWTN News Nightly that he attributes this surge in complaints to "pent up demand" and that this new division has been established "to assess complaints, see which ones are meritorious, and to vindicate the interests of justice as the law requires".

"Because Catholics play such a large role, they finally will have a place to bring their grievances to try to solve things and bring common sense solutions that are so important without having to resort to litigation". "It turns the Hippocratic Oath into the Hypocritical Oath and violates the most basic tenets of medical ethics".

Several other government officials and religious figures spoke at the press conference announcing the new division. This Supreme Court will hear this case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, this year.

"President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom", acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement. "It is not "freedom" of religion to use your faith as a weapon to harm others".

When asked by EWTN News Nightly about the likelihood of the new department surviving in future administrations, Severino responded, "It would be very hard to undo the division". Now he is the director of HHS' Office of Civil Rights. Text there notes that "HHS ensures that people have equal access and opportunities to participate in certain healthcare and human services programs without unlawful discrimination". "Those are not going to go away and we have to enforce those laws fully".

"Religious liberty doesn't include a right to be exempt from laws protecting our health or barring discrimination", Louise Melling, the deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said. There were 15 states that moved to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Trump administration has broken with its predecessor on several fronts in this area, and remains in a legal battle over a decision previous year to undo the contraceptive mandate under Obamacare, which requires employers to provide employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives.

For religious conservatives, the new protections address long-held concerns that religious people could be forced to comply with laws and regulations that violate their religious beliefs. What this new division seems set to do, however, is to allow those who are so inclined to directly undermine the rights of others - particularly sexual and gender minorities - and then to claim to be doing so due to their religion.

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