Something missing from report on HHS’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom watchdog

Something missing from report on HHS’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom watchdog

It wasn’t immediately clear what connection ABC was making, in this report about the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The report starts promisingly enough:

Social conservatives and religious liberty leaders have anticipated conscience and religious freedom protections to come out of HHS, and the work of the new division, which will fall under the purview of the Office of Civil Rights, will likely pave the way for health care workers to refuse specific types of care, like birth control or abortion, based on their religious or conscience objections.

Then it quickly detours into a dead end:

Critics say the move could hurt civil rights protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people, and hurt patient care.

Hmm.  We can readily understand that there are people with special kinds of medical concerns, and transgender people, along with some (though hardly all) lesbians and gays, are likely to be among them.

But even considering the possibilities for artificial insemination, it’s hard to see how abortion and birth control can be prominent concerns for these segments of the population.  (Indeed, if someone invests in artificial insemination, birth control would seem clearly to not be at issue, and an emerging need for abortion counterintuitive as a rule.)

The rest of the piece is no more illuminating.  It goes on to discuss the Church and Weldon Amendments, both of which are about ensuring that there is no discrimination against those who decline to provide or assist in abortions.

We need not speculate on the abortion or birth control needs of any given lesbian or transgender person, to acknowledge that the medical aspect of this applies to everyone with (fertile) female biology – a far larger (and more rationally obvious) demographic than “LGBT” people.

Just for fun, I ran a word find on the story to check for the words “woman” and “women.”  “Woman” does not appear.  There were two instances of “women,” and both were in the name of the group Concerned Women for America.  In other words, at no point does the story suggest that any women will be medically inconvenienced by the charter of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.

For completeness: “female” doesn’t appear in the article either.

This making no sense, I did some searches online for more information.  A comparatively straightforward account is rendered at the industry website here.  Although it, too, focuses on abortion, it adds a couple of other classes of procedures as well:

The [Conscience and Religious Freedom] division’s work will be authorized by several existing statutes that make it illegal to discriminate against healthcare workers who refuse to participate in abortions, sterilization, or assisted suicide. These are included in the Church Amendments, the Public Health Service Act, the Weldon Amendment, and the Affordable Care Act.

So: sterilization and assisted suicide.  Are these the procedures of such concern to LGBT people?  One could think so.  After a one-paragraph quote from an HHS official about enforcing the laws just cited, the next thing up is a reference to the ACLU and LGBT people.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics worry, however, that this shift could open the door to more discrimination against women and LGBTQ people in need of medical care.

No effort is made to demonstrate that the actual religious-freedom right exercised by practitioners – to decline to participate in abortions, sterilization, or assisted suicide – has a special impact on LGBT people.  Rather, an emotional appeal is then mounted that religious believers will use any excuse to refuse treatment to LGBT people.

Yet no evidence is offered for that either.

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, released a statement saying HHS “appears ready to create sweeping, dangerous exemptions to patient protections that would encourage doctors, hospitals, paramedics and other medical providers to pick and choose which patients they will and won’t treat, and who does and doesn’t get life-saving medical care.”

Huh?  This doesn’t translate at all.  We’re talking about doctors and nurses not being required to participate in abortions, sterilization, or assisted suicide, as conditions of employment or licensing.  (The last of these procedures, one must note, is manifestly the opposite of life-saving medical care.)  Where life-saving treatment is necessary, no law or freedom-of-conscience clause allows a medical provider to disregard a patient’s humanity.

For that matter, no religious strictures would lead anyone to.

Health Leaders Media goes on, at last, to cite what presumably is the crux of the matter:

Roger Severino, director of the HHS OCR, was a staff member with The Heritage Foundation, where he coauthored a report that described the Obama administration’s proposal to prohibit differential treatment on the basis of gender identity as a threat to religious liberty and freedom of conscience for doctors and healthcare organizations.

Oh.  That this citation is no slam-dunk for the ACLU or LGBT activists is apparent, however, to anyone who reads the Heritage Foundation report.  For one thing, Severino doesn’t just refer to religious liberty in the report.  He and his co-author, Ryan Anderson, point out that under the rules proposed by the Obama HHS, physicians who provide specialized services for transgender people would be prohibited from making any distinctions among their patients, in terms of what they will provide.

A doctor’s judgment is to be overridden on principle, in other words.  If he provides sex reassignment surgery to anyone, for example, he must provide it to everyone who wants it – even if, on this sensitive and variable matter, he and/or consulting colleagues believe it’s not in the patient’s best interest.

If you read any link from this post, I urge you to make it the Heritage report.  It’s not the smoking gun.  It’s extremely sensible.  The truth is that the emotional bullying approach of the ACLU – and apparently of ABC News, which throws in a drive-by “LGBT” reference without justification – serves only to prove Severino’s point.

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J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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