The Trump administration is setting up a new division of the US Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to protecting the conscience rights of health workers.
The division, part of the department’s Office for Civil Rights, will defend those who say they are being forced against their conscience to take part in procedures such as abortion or sex reassignment surgery.
Its remit is to enforce existing laws and to make sure hospitals and other institutions accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs. Politico reported that the division may be given powers to punish such institutions if they fail to do so.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last year ordering agencies to expand religious liberty under federal law.
In October the HHS broadened exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide contraception coverage at no cost to their staff.
In a statement outlining strategy the department also used strikingly pro-life language, saying: “Our ultimate goal is to improve healthcare outcomes for all people, including the unborn, across healthcare settings.”
Eric Hargan, HHS acting secretary, said in a press release: “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 [the Office for Civil Rights’] new division will help make that vision a reality.”