Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a new division to protect the religious freedom of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers. As LGBT activists try to enforce their worldview on sexuality issues, it is vitally important that health professionals retain the freedom to refuse to perform certain acts that violate their consciences.
“For too long too many of these health care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral conviction,” Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said on Thursday, announcing the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. He argued that the government has “hounded religious hospitals and the men and women who staff them, forcing them to provide and refer for services that violate their consciences.”
The religious freedom debate often centers on controversial issues like homosexual activity, transgender identity, and abortion. Leftists consider impediments to each of these things to be a health risk. An LGBT activist might argue that transgender surgery is important for the mental health of a patient, and an abortion activist would argue that abortion empowers a woman to live her own life without the encumbrances of motherhood.
On the contrary, many conservatives would consider the surgical alteration of a healthy male or female body to be harmful, and therefore a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Similarly, doctors and nurses might consider abortion to involve the killing of a human being, and so would object to providing certain abortifacient drugs or referring women to abortion clinics.
These are serious issues in the health community today.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, infamously included a contraception mandate, forcing employers to cover a variety of forms of contraception. Some of these contraceptives were more abortifacients — involving the destruction of an embryo in the womb rather than the prevention of conception.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration could not require Hobby Lobby to pay for abortifacients against the religious convictions of the store owners. In a subsequent case two years later, the Supreme Court also ruled that the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic charity, did not have to abide by the contraception mandate. The fact that these cases reached the Supreme Court is extremely concerning.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against a Roman Catholic hospital after it refused to perform a hysterectomy for a woman who identified as transgender. The hospital did not discriminate against a transgender person — it just does not provide elective sterilizations for anyone, as the Catholic health center considers such a procedure harmful to the patient’s body.
In 2016, the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a directive that federal prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex apply to transgender individuals. Under Obamacare, employers were required to provide coverage for transgender surgery — a procedure many consider to be a harmful rejection of God-given sexuality.
A Roman Catholic diocese and an organization of Catholic businesses sued the Obama administration over this rule, but Trump later reversed it.
On the issue of abortion, multiple states — California and Hawaii — have passed bills requiring pregnancy resource centers (many of which are pro-life) to post placards advertising abortion services. The Supreme Court has taken up the case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra.
Just last week, pediatric nurse e who worked 18 years at a health department in Illinois, filed a complaint with HHS. She claimed she was forced from her job because she objected to a requirement that nurses be trained to make referrals to abortionists and to help women obtain abortion drugs.
LGBT activists argue that conscience protections would give religious doctors carte blanche to turn away any LGBT person, regardless of the treatment he or she seeks. This echoes the “non-discrimination” arguments behind forcing conservative Christian bakers, florists, or photographers to serve a same-sex wedding, regardless of their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Leftists are so afraid of conscience protections, some have openly declared their intentions to “punish the wicked,” i.e. anyone who would try to live by the dictates of his or her conscience. LGBT activists wrongly assume that because some religious people disagree with LGBT identity, they are dehumanizing LGBT people. That is not the case at all.
In reality, there is a world of difference between refusing to provide any treatment to someone due to their sexual identity (real discrimination) and refusing to perform a specific treatment that would violate your conscience. Similarly, there is a world of difference between refusing to sell any cakes to a homosexual person (real discrimination) and refusing to bake a specific wedding cake for a specific same-sex wedding.
As in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding but who gladly sold other baked goods to LGBT people, a doctor or nurse should be able to refuse to provide transgender surgery (for example), but not able to refuse to treat a transgender person suffering from cancer.
The Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom represents a tremendous step in the right direction, and both Trump and HHS Acting Secretary Hargan deserve praise for launching it. It is vital to counter the “discrimination” attacks of the Left and stand up for religious liberty.
At the same time, this department must also be careful to preserve the vital difference between religious freedom and true discrimination.