POSITIVE WOMEN’S NETWORK – USA CONDEMNS THE CREATION OF NEW HHS DIVISION WHICH WILL LEGALIZE DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTH CARE SETTINGS
Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it is creating a new division—“Conscience and Religious Freedom”—within its Office of Civil Rights (OCR). It has also amended the mission of the OCR to emphasize that the office will ensure “individuals and institutions can exercise their conscience and religious freedom rights.”
Make no mistake: This is nothing more than dangerous doublespeak and transforms the OCR’s mission from protecting the American people from discrimination to enabling and abetting it. While the administration alleges they are establishing this office to protect rights and freedoms, what they really mean is they intend to protect the rights of health care providers and institutions to discriminate and deny health care services by claiming religious or moral objections.
In practice, that means doctors, nurses, and pharmacists can simply refuse to treat LGBTQ patients based on their personal prejudices related to sexual orientation and gender expression. It means providers can refuse to provide abortions or abortion-related care, or even dispense birth control. It means providers could deny care for people living with HIV or other STIs.
These burdens are always disproportionately borne by women and queer and trans people of color. This harmful action by the administration could set us back decades. A 2017 Center for American Progress survey found that nearly a third of people of trans experience had been denied care by a doctor based on their gender identity. The survey also highlighted specific cases of discrimination, including a person living with HIV who was denied his HIV medication at a hospital after disclosing that he had sex with men. The new HHS rule and focus will exacerbate an already prevalent and deadly problem—and one that will hamstring the HIV response.
This development also represents yet another a blatant attack on reproductive rights and will jeopardize access to abortion and contraception, which remain under continuous assault, even decades after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. A U.S. study released yesterday showed that women denied an abortion are more likely to suffer from economic hardship and financial insecurity than women who received an abortion. Denying the right to choose if, when or how we will have children is to deny us control over our bodies and our futures—a very real form of coercion and control.
“Religious freedom” is no more than code for “license to discriminate” and dismantle dignity.
Positive Women’s Network – USA condemns this shameful transformation of the very agency established to protect patients from discrimination into one that facilitates it and impedes care in the process. With their actions, the administration has cruelly placed women and LGBTQ communities in the crosshairs as targets for government-sanctioned denial of life-saving care. This is an outrage, and we will never stop fighting until health care is an undeniable, inalienable human right, recognized at all levels of government.