NBC News reports that LGBTQ advocates and healthcare experts warn that a May ruling by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could harm the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
The religious freedom ruling expands health care workers’ ability to refuse to provide services they object to on religious grounds.
According to the agency, the director of the agency’s office of civil rights, Roger Severino, said “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the healthcare field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.”
People who object to participating in such actions file conscience complaints. From 2005 to 2015, the office received 10 complaints. In 2018 alone, 343 such complaints were filed.
Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, told National Public Radio complaints have risen because “Now that there’s an actual office opened and it’s well-publicized that it’s available, people are contacting them.”
He said people forced to become complicit in treatments that violate their conscience such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide and gender transitioning, sometimes leave the profession.
Severino’s predecessor as director, Jocelyn Samuels, disagree that the office had not been receptive when she ran it, but agreed that the agency now encourages conscience complaints.
NBC reported that Severino co-authored a 2016 report by the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, that said the office he now heads had conferred special privileges to gender identity and that these violated the religious liberty and freedom of conscience” of healthcare providers.
LBGTQ groups have said they feel targeted by religious freedom initiatives.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s Gillian Branstetter, told NBC News, ““In an attempt to justify more discrimination against transgender people, HHS minimizes the very real pain religious-based refusals by providers have caused transgender people.”
Bias Busters guides “100 Questions and Answers About Gender Identity” and “100 Questions and Answers About Sexual Orientation” take up the issues of religious freedom.