Health care providers can refuse to provide medical care, including contraception, abortion, and procedures for transgender patients, that violates their religious or moral beliefs, according to regulations published by the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday. President Donald Trump announced the finalized “conscience protection” rules during remarks for the National Day of Prayer, saying, “Together, we are building a culture that cherishes the dignity and worth of human life.”
The rules specifically mention abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide as services that health care providers can opt out of performing for religious reasons. The rules only make a passing mention of gender, saying that the department had received a number of comments asking whether the part of the rule that allows doctors to refuse to perform sterilizations on moral grounds included sterilizations because of gender dysphoria, such as a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). The department references related cases, and says if it receives any complaints about having to perform a sterilization despite moral objections, it will review them on a case-by-case basis. According to Politico, the administration is also expected to issue more specific rules that would roll back discrimination protections for trans patients.
The Trump administration has enacted several so-called conscience protections to permit discrimination. Last year, the HHS Office of Civil Rights created a new division focused on protecting health care workers’ religious freedom.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value and is already protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution,” said Adam Sonfield, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, in a statement. “But that freedom doesn’t give individuals and organizations the right to impose their beliefs on others, to block patients from receiving information and care, or to discriminate. That’s not freedom of religion, that’s weaponizing ‘religious liberty.’”