Trump would protect healthcare providers with moral objections to abortion, treating transgender patients

Doctors and other healthcare workers who don’t want to perform abortions or treat transgender patients would be protected as part of a proposed rule under review by the Trump administration. 

The rule, which could be released as early as this week, would provide new protections for healthcare providers who have moral or religious objections to certain procedures, according to a report in Politico.

Patient groups and other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say they will challenge any move by the government to allow healthcare workers to refuse to provide services based on “conscience protections.”

The rule, which has been kept under wraps but is now under review by the White House, would allow the Health and Human Services Department's civil rights office to shield providers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their moral objections, sources told Politico.

The news organization said HHS did not respond to its requests for comment on the proposed rule. 

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would fight any such proposed rule. “Religious liberty doesn’t include a right to be exempt from laws protecting our health or barring discrimination,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director, in an announcement.  “Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care. Should the administration choose to move forward to implement a discriminatory policy, we will see them in court.”

Democrats immediately attacked the proposed rule. The Democratic National Committee said the rule would allow healthcare workers to discriminate against patients by refusing to provide reproductive care to women, denying care to transgender individuals or refusing to prescribe HIV medication or birth control. “It wasn’t enough to try to strip transgender Americans of their right to serve, roll back access to birth control and attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Now Trump, Pence and their Republican cronies want to allow healthcare workers to discriminate and rip away access to medical care. This rule is unethical and dangerously undermines public health,” Elizabeth Renda, the DNC’s director of women’s media, and Lucas Acosta, director of LGBTQ media, said in a joint emailed statement.

The Obama administration in 2011 overturned Bush-era protections that allowed healthcare professionals to cite their religious beliefs to deny care.

HHS last fall issued a request for information seeking comment from religious organizations on how to ease barriers to participation in healthcare and to better understand the role that faith-based groups play in the system. HHS received thousands of comments on its plan but posted just a fraction of them publicly.

The request was issued about a month after the Trump administration offered faith- and moral-based exemptions to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate for employers.

Editor's note: This article was edited to add a statement from the Democratic National Committee.