The Trump administration is poised to overhaul the HHS civil rights office as part of a broader plan to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients seeking to transition or provide other services for which they have religious or moral objections.
Under a proposed rule — which has been closely guarded at HHS and is now under review by the White House — the civil rights office would be empowered to further shield these workers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their religious and moral objections, according to sources on and off the Hill. That would be a significant shift for the office, which currently focuses on enforcing federal civil rights and health care privacy laws.
HHS did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, HHS’ leaders have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for rolling back regulations dating to the George W. Bush administration that legally insulated health care workers while affirming their religious freedoms.
Roger Severino, the Trump administration appointee who now leads the HHS civil rights office, has repeatedly stressed that strengthening conscience protections for health care workers is a top priority for his office.
The pending rule, which could be released as soon as this week, has been described to POLITICO as establishing a new division of the HHS civil rights office that would conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers to opt out of procedures when they have religious or moral objections. The new division would be a third, co-equal branch with the office’s existing two divisions that focus on federal civil rights laws and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The new rules — a priority for anti-abortion groups and supporters — could come just days before Friday’s March for Life, the annual gathering in Washington marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Republicans have typically timed votes on anti-abortion legislation to the event, the nation’s largest anti-abortion rally.
Full story at Politico.com.