- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Trump administration launched a division at the Health and Human Services Department on Thursday to protect doctors and medical providers who object to participating in abortions and assisted suicide on religious or moral grounds.

Officials said the division, part of the HHS’ Office of Civil Rights, will stand ready to assist health care workers who say they’re being coerced into participating in procedures that violate their beliefs.

Democrats strenuously objected, saying it will restrict health care access to women or transgender patients.

They’re already fuming over President Trump’s attacks on Planned Parenthood and his decision to curb Obama-era rules requiring employers to cover contraceptives as part of their health plans.

“This would be yet another attempt to let ideology dictate who is able to get the care they need,” Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said. “Any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their well-being for ideological reasons is unacceptable.”

HHS said it will be enforcing protections that already exist.

For instance, Congress passed a series of “Church Amendments” in the 1970s that say medical professional don’t have to perform abortions or sterilization procedures that violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” said Roger Severino, who leads HHS’s civil rights division. “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.”

The announcement should bolster Mr. Trump’s position with members of the pro-life community who are descending on Washington to protest abortion in the annual March for Life on Friday.

Mr. Trump plans to address the crowd by video feed.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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