Washington DC - Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.
Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.
The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump.
HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers.
The religious and conscience division will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws.
Officials said it will focus on upholding protections already part of federal law.
Violations can result in a service provider losing government funding.
No new efforts to expand such protections were announced, but activists on both sides expect the administration will try to broaden them in the future.