The Trump administration announced a new rule on religious conscience protections for the medical field on Thursday, aimed at protecting religious and moral objectors from participating in or paying for services such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.
The proposal was first unveiled in January 2018.
“Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities. They’ve been wanting to do that a long time,” Trump said during a National Day of Prayer service at the White House Rose Garden on Thursday.
The final rule drew immediate condemnation from several civil and reproductive rights groups. They warned that those seeking reproductive care stand to lose, as do members of the LGBTQ community. They said the idea of religious liberty is being used to justify hurting communities and endangering lives and will negatively affect women’s health and that of transgender patients.
The Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights said in a statement on Thursday that this final rule replaces one from 2011 that it deemed “inadequate.”
According to the office, the rule will protect individuals and health care entities from unwanted involvement with services such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide. The rule, according to the office, reestablishes existing protections created by Congress.
The final rule also notes that complaints submitted to the office about gender dysphoria-related surgeries will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The proposed conscience rule was submitted in January 2018 alongside the Department of Health and Human Services creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its civil rights office, which provides resources and personnel to enforcing the new guidelines and ensuring compliance.
The Sunlight Foundation reported that last month the HHS Office of Civil Rights overhauled its mission statement, to heavily emphasize the office’s role in protecting “conscience and free exercise of religion.”
The office’s director, Roger Severino, touted the final rule in a statement: “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which aims to “promote and protect the rights of all persons in the US,” said in a statement that the rule should be “scrapped.”
“HHS’s final denial of care rule will substantially harm the health and well-being of many – in particular women and transgender patients. The government should protect all patients from discrimination, not make it easier for those in the health care system to discriminate,” Gupta, a former civil rights official at the Justice Department, said.
“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Denying patients health care is not religious liberty. Discriminating against patients based on their gender or gender expression is not religious liberty. Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”
Letting personal religious beliefs get in the way of care is “outrageous, immoral, and dangerous,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, in a statement.
The new rule also blocks access and chips away at the intent of important federal programs like the Title X family planning program, said Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.
“This final rule ignores the needs of the patients and individuals served by HHS’ programs and will create significant confusion about the rights and responsibilities of health care providers and entities,” Coleman said in a statement.
CNN’s Eli Watkins and MJ Lee contributed to this report.