Donald Trump made another appalling remark today during his speech in the Rose Garden in honor of the National Day of Prayer.
He announced the finalization of a rule that would allow doctors, nurses, insurance providers, and employers to refuse service if it violates their religious beliefs. It comes more than a year after he first said this would happen.
He’s taking the bigotry of evangelical Christian bakers and applying it to the medical industry. He’s taking the biggest problems with Catholic hospitals and exporting them across the entire country.
Conservative groups welcomed what they said were needed “protections” for health care workers, while LGBT and women’s groups warned the rule would lead to discrimination and drastically reduce services for already marginalized groups since providers might decline to offer certain treatments, or refuse to treat gay and transgender people.
[The rule] explicitly mentions abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide and advance directives as issues, and says that individuals and entities would be allowed to refrain from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for, such services. It includes protections for medical students, people who prep patients for the operating rooms, and charitable groups alike.
In theory, an ambulance driver could refuse to drive a woman with an ectopic pregnancy to a hospital because it would lead to an abortion… even if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. It would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions or drugs to induce a miscarriage.
The actual “rule” is a 440-page document laying out new “conscience regulations.” All hospitals, clinics, universities, etc. that get federal funding (including Medicare and Medicaid) will have to say they’re complying with the “conscience” rules in order to keep receiving money. It goes into effect 60 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. (It shouldn’t surprise you that Roger Severino, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights used to work as an attorney for the right-wing group Becket Fund.)
Naturally, church/state separation critics are sounding the alarm since the new rules allow faith-based exemptions to the law.
“This rule unconscionably promotes religious prejudice above basic human rights,” explained AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. Speckhardt continued, “Valuing religious restrictions over people’s right to healthcare is morally reprehensible.”
“This rule is rooted in religious bigotry,” said Matthew Bulger, legislative director at the American Humanist Association. “The Trump administration has consistently displayed hostility to human dignity — instead preferring to promote religious privilege. Today’s action is no exception.”
Here’s the ACLU:
Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, “Once again, this Administration shows itself to be determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law. This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives.”
“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” Melling continued. “Denying patients health care is not religious liberty. Discriminating against patients based on their gender or gender expression is not religious liberty. Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”
Here’s American Atheists:
“This new rule enshrines extreme religious viewpoints into law at the expense of the health and safety of millions of Americans,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy. “With these changes, the Trump administration is putting the religious dogma of a few fundamentalists above the lives and well-being of women, elderly people, LGBTQ people, and others by allowing doctors and hospitals to refuse to provide necessary medical care to patients they disapprove of.”
“This has nothing to do with protecting religious freedom,” said Nick Fish, President of American Atheists. “This is about the Trump administration doing everything in its power to advance the extreme ideology of religious supremacists, even if it will result in the deaths of women and LGBTQ people. It is sad that this president is so transparently willing to trade lives for Evangelical votes.”
“Discrimination in health care is far too common already, and the Trump Administration is making it worse,” added Gill. “For millions of Americans who live in small towns across the nation, finding a different hospital, doctor, or pharmacist simply isn’t an option, especially when it’s an emergency.”
“This is the Trump administration’s most dangerous attempt yet to weaponize religious freedom, and we won’t stand for it,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “The Denial of Care Rule condones discrimination by health care workers — our trusted medical professionals on whom we rely in our most vulnerable moments.
“It is clear that women, LGBTQ people and religious minorities are the intended targets, but it doesn’t stop there. The rule is so broad that everyone — including sick children, pregnant women and senior citizens — is at risk.
“It is un-American for the Trump administration to authorize medical professionals to circumvent our shared secular values to deny patients lifesaving medical care. We are prepared to take any action possible to challenge this unconscionable rule and protect true religious freedom in America.”
Here’s the Center for Inquiry:
“When a patient visits a health care facility, the primary concern should be the welfare of that patient,” said Jason Lemieux, CFI’s Director of Government Affairs. ”This rule subordinates that basic right to the religious whims of the hospital staff, from nurses and doctors to receptionists and directors. Patients’ suffering becomes a concern that is secondary to the religious feelings of anyone in the health care system with whom they happen to come in contact. This so-called ‘conscience rule’ is anything but.”
“We demand, simply, that health care providers do their jobs without imposing their personal religious judgment,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “A health care worker’s opinions about gay or transgendered patients should have no bearing on whether they are deserving of treatment. We would rightly view a doctor who refused to treat patients because of their race or their religion as a disgrace to their profession.”
“We must acknowledge that there is no place for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that women deserve a full range of reproductive health services when they need them, rather than dependent on the religious preferences of the provider,” said Little.
“On a day where the government celebrates religious privilege, deliberately ostracizing the plurality of Americans unaffiliated with religion, President Trump has again handed a gift to the religious right,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “Under this rule, religious belief is once again given a special place, allowing its adherents to ignore the basic principles of fairness and equal treatment that underlie our society. Trump is doling out favors to this community like candy, seeking re-election while ignoring the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, as well as dismissing the concerns of non-believers.”
Here’s the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
“The list of workers the division will ‘protect’ is theoretically endless: the anesthesiologist who thinks that an abortion to save the life of the pregnant woman shouldn’t be performed or an ambulance driver with the same objection; the pharmacist opposed to birth control who won’t process prescriptions or even refer to another pharmacist on site; the ER staffer who refuses rape victims the morning-after-pill; the nurse who doesn’t want to run an IV line for a transgender patient; the physician who refuses to treat a Muslim patient; or a medical worker to won’t adhere to a patient’s end-of-life directives,” say FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “These are civil rights concerns for the patients involved, not the medical workers.”
FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel reveals the real intent of the new rule.
“This rule does not protect the religious liberty of doctors and patients, it instead imposes religious dogma on patients,” he says. “The right to practice your religion ends where my rights begin; you don’t get to use your medical license to impose your dogma on anyone else.”
You can imagine the outcry if a Muslim doctor refused to treat a Christian patient for some reason. Yet that’s exactly what Republicans want doctors to be able to do to women and LGBTQ patients.
Donald Trump is a fierce defender of your right to only practice Mike Pence's religion.
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) May 2, 2019
Christian groups are celebrating all this, of course, because hurting other people with their religion brings them all kinds of joy. Christianity Today, a publication that believes committed gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society,” called today’s announcement a “major religious freedom victory, particularly for pro-life evangelicals.” People who lie about abortions will now be the beneficiaries of a lying administration.
Conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom also did a victory lap, claiming the “rule preserves diversity in the healthcare field and maintains respect for the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.” I don’t know how they wrote that without putting “LOL” after it…
Forget the Hippocratic Oath. The Trump Oath now says “Do no harm, unless your God is okay with it, in which case harm whoever the hell you want.”
The Trump administration has taken a lot of moves to make access to affordable health care as difficult as possible. Since Republicans failed to repeal the ACA, he’s making sure Christians still have power to hurt people. Gotta give the people what they want, as long as they’re part of your base.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)