President Donald Trump announced a new rule Thursday that would protect medical providers who object to certain procedures, such as abortions and gender transitions, for moral or religious reasons, threatening trans people and patients seeking reproductive health care.
“Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” Trump told his audience of faith leaders at the White House on the National Day of Prayer. “They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”
The 440-page Health and Human Services rule that religious conservatives call “conscience protections” spells out specific services that health care workers and patients could refuse to provide or pay for based on their beliefs, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide. The rule also endorses parents’ rights to refuse specific types of care for their children, including suicide assessments.
Under the broad scope of the protections, health care workers can deny treatment or preventative care for AIDS or HIV, refuse to give hormone therapy treatment and transition-related care, and object to aiding in vitro fertilization (IVF) for women who are single or in a lesbian or interfaith relationship.
The rule will go into effect 60 days after it gets published in the Federal Register, which is pending.
The protections, which were proposed in 2018, are a win for Trump, who counts religious conservatives among his political base. The protections don’t equate to a new law and don’t go beyond statutes already enacted in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, the rule guarantees that religious and conscience protections already on the books will be enforced.
“We are giving these laws life with this regulation,” said Roger Severino, head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which will enforce the rule. “It makes sure Congress’ protections are not merely empty words on paper.”
But those against it said the rule will lead to the denial of medical care for LGBTQ people or women seeking abortions and potentially harm those patients.
“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. … Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”
The Human Rights Campaign also responded to the new rule, saying many LGBTQ patients, patients of color and low-income patients already face barriers to proper health care.
“The administration’s decision puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said in a statement. “Everyone deserves access to medically necessary care and should never be turned away because of who they are or who they love.”
During the National Day of Prayer speech on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump “has taken steps to ensure that the federal government will never, ever penalize anyone for their religious beliefs ever again.”
Those remarks quickly got shot down on Twitter from people who noted the administration’s implementation of a travel ban that largely targeted people from Muslim-majority countries.