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New Federal Rule Would Protect Transphobe and Anti-Choice Doctors Who Want to Deny Patients Care

According to a recent report in Politico, the Trump administration is getting ready to “overhaul the HHS civil rights office” in order to offer stronger protections for healthcare workers who don’t want to perform abortions, help transgender patients to transition, or offer other services they’re morally or religiously opposed to.

The White House is reportedly reviewing a new proposed rule which would create a new department devoted to ensuring that all the transphobic and anti-choice doctors are given enough leeway to deny people care. The new department would also be able to punish healthcare organizations that don’t allow their employees to opt out of procedures that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs. Under Obama, HHS rolled back similar protections from the Bush administration, fearing that they were too broad, and the HHS civil rights office currently focuses on patient privacy and federal civil rights violations. The Trump administration wants to bring those “conscience” protections back.

“Conscience violations continue to occur, and it is critical that the administration responds appropriately,” argued Melanie Israel of The Heritage Foundation. “Ensuring that HHS funds do not support morally coercive or discriminatory practices or policies in violation of federal law should not be remotely controversial.”

However, LGBTQ advocates and women’s right advocates have pointed out that such “protections” will likely just amount to a right to discriminate. “This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are,” said Harper Jean Tobin from the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Any rule that grants a license to discriminate would be a disgrace and a mockery of the principal of religious freedom we all cherish.”

It is already incredibly difficult for trans people to receive proper healthcare, so much so that there’s an entire hashtag devoted to the problem: #TransHealthFail. Doctors typically receive very little training about LGBTQ issues, sometimes as little as a few hours, and they can struggle with trans patients’ health care records if they’re labeled with a different gender identity. Discrimination and misgendering can make trans patients feel uncomfortable with their doctors, and can lead them to avoid getting the medical care they need.

Enshrining a license to discriminate against trans folks in federal guidelines will only exacerbate this problem.

In addition, access to abortion is becoming more and more limited. In 25 states, more than half of the residents live in a county without an abortion provider. Laws that have no medical basis, laws that require mandatory waiting periods, and laws which ban abortion after 20 weeks have been passed at the state level and considered at the national level, despite the Supreme Court having determined a constitutional right to abortion.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of healthcare providers who’d be delighted to hire a doctor who’s ethically opposed to abortion. Catholic hospitals alone constitute 15% of the nation’s hospitals, and in some states, they provide nearly 40% of all hospital beds. And all 500+ of them follow the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) set up by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These ERDs ban the hospitals from providing abortions, tubal ligations, and other medical procedures deemed to be against Catholic teaching (unless someone’s life is in danger).

No statistics suggest that there is a crisis of doctors being forced to go against their consciences. The statistics do suggest, however, that trans people and pregnant people are struggling to get the care they need. But why would the Trump administration ever try to solve a real problem when it can persecute marginalized people instead?

(Via Politico; image: Shutterstock)

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