By Dave Andrusko
Yesterday I decided not to comment on a preposterous Washington Post story whose underlying message was that pro-lifers should be disappointed in the work on our behalf of the Trump administration. It is a theme they have milked for well over a year (long before Mr. Trump was elected), trying desperately to create distance between our Movement and pro-life President Donald Trump.
How ironic that this blather should be published the day before the Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Here is the key second paragraph from a statement which came out prior to the formal announcement which took place at an event this morning.
The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom. OCR is the law enforcement agency within HHS that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people’s health information. The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.
National Right to Life applauded the announcement. NRLC President Carol Tobias explained why this new office is so important to pro-lifers.
“We commend the Trump Administration for creating a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office for Civil Rights that will focus on enforcement of and compliance with existing laws that protect conscience.
“We are pleased to see this new division in the face of a growing number of actions by some state governments to compel participation in abortions by health care providers and others, and because the Obama Administration had effectively adopted a non-enforcement policy with respect to existing federal conscience-protection laws.
“Rights of conscience are extremely important to the right-to-life movement to protect medical professionals, religious institutions, and employers from being forced to participate in abortion.”
At this morning’s event, Acting HHS Secretary Eric D. Hargan said, “President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom. That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”
Added OCR Director Roger Severino, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”
In its coverage, POLITICO’s Dan Diamond and Jennifer Haberkorn wrote, “The department’s 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.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also welcomed the creation of the new division.
“Health care professionals do not put their consciences in a blind trust when they pursue medical training. The Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement of this new office to safeguard conscience protection is a welcome and positive move. I am thankful that HHS recognizes how imperiled conscience rights have been in recent years in this arena and is actively working and leading to turn the tide in the other direction. Healthcare professionals should be freed up to care for the bodies and minds of their patients not tied up by having their own consciences bound.”