Alliance for Full Acceptance calls new DHHS religious freedom division 'frightening'

The Trump administration has accepted more than 34 "conscience protection" complaints so far


People gathered at an AFFA rally for marriage equality at the steps of the U.S. Customs House in Charleston in May 2013. - COURTESY OF ALLIANCE FOR FULL ACCEPTANCE
  • Courtesy of Alliance for Full Acceptance
  • People gathered at an AFFA rally for marriage equality at the steps of the U.S. Customs House in Charleston in May 2013.
The Charleston Alliance for Full Acceptance released a statement on Thursday expressing concern over the creation of a new office within the Department of Health and Human Services to handle complaints from health care workers who feel that certain work violates their religious liberty.

The new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the DHHS Office of Civil Rights will streamline complaints by healthcare workers who feel they've been made to do work that goes against their moral or religious beliefs.

Some are worried that this could mean more objections to procedures like abortions and sex reassignment surgery.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced," said Office of Civil Rights director Roger Severino in a statement released Thursday. "No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice."

In response, the Charleston-based Alliance for Full Acceptance said that the announcement would give license to doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to "discriminate" against communities like the LGBT.

"A doctor could refuse to prescribe medication to a gay man. A nurse could refuse to assist in a lesbian’s emergency C-section. A pharmacist could refuse to fill a transgender person’s hormone prescription," said AFFA executive director Chase Glenn. "Every American deserves access to medically necessary healthcare and religious freedom should never mean there is freedom to discriminate against a person because of their identity."

Glenn, who is transgender, argued that the new division could affect his health care.

"I find this recent development particularly frightening," he continued. "I should not have to live in fear that I could one day be wheeled into the E.R., in need of help, only to be turned away."

This Obama administration took away some federal protections for health care workers refusing to provide care they disagree with in 2011, though it left protections for those who did not want to perform abortions or sterilizations, according to The Washington Post.

These "conscience" protections recall recent fights about "religious exemptions" laws, which disproportionally impact the LGBT community and catapulted Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis to national fame.

Severino told The Post that his office has already received 34 related complaints since President Trump took office, compared to only 10 under the Obama administration.

On Friday, the DHHS issued a letter to state Medicaid directors that rescinded another Obama-era guidance, which ensured that states that disqualified abortion providers from their Medicaid programs without proof of wrongdoing would come under scrutiny.

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