Photo: AP

In a characteristically cruel turn of events, on Thursday, the Trump administration announced an overhaul of the Department of Health and Human Services that will likely make it easier for doctors, nurses, and other health care workers to withhold their services on religious grounds. Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan, who made the announcement, said that “for too long, too many of these health-care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against.”

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At the heart of the new initiative is the creation of an oversight board within the HHS, to be named the “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division,” which will be housed in the department’s Civil Rights division, the New York Times reported. The office will adjudicate the demands of health care workers who, for religious reasons, don’t want to perform procures such as abortion and gender reassignment surgery. The Washington Post suggested a wider spectrum of procedures that the new mandate could wind up complicating or forestalling:

“The description of the division’s mandate cites abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide as examples of the types of procedures covered. But legal experts said the language appears likely to also cover a host of other scenarios, such as treating transgender patients or those seeking to transition to the opposite sex.”

Basically, it’s an anti-abortion, anti-transgender measure dressed up as protection for religious freedoms.

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At least that’s what critics are saying (hi). Rachel B. Tiven, chief executive of LGBT rights group Lambda Legal told the Times the administration’s new plans could lead to an increase in discrimination against the LGBT community, which, she adds, is already a reality: “LGBT people have been turned away from hospitals and doctors’ offices.”

Washington Senator Patty Murray, senior Democrat on the Senate health committee, called this development “a tool to restrict access to health care for people who are transgender and women.”

And elsewhere:

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Needless to say, conservatives are thrilled. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, an anti-abortion lobbying group, told the Times, “President Trump’s promises are becoming a reality. Americans should not be forced to choose between their faith and their desire to help patients.” Except that the desire he’s referencing is to not help the patients. That’s one of the flaws, at least.

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