(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new division of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights, (OCR) which will focus exclusively on religious and moral exemption claims. The OCR has always had the authority to enforce existing exemption laws.
Said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, of the announcement:
“HHS already had the authority to enforce federal laws that allow medical personnel to morally object to providing healthcare, including for women seeking reproductive health services. Today the Department announced that it was adding a new division to the Office for Civil Rights to “more vigorously” enforce such refusal laws. This announced reorganization is a dog whistle to those who want to block women’s access to reproductive healthcare to go ahead and do it. HHS should get back to advancing and protecting public health, not undermining it.”
This isn’t the first time that the Trump Administration has issued religious or moral exemptions that affect women’s access to reproductive health care. In October, the Trump Administration issued interim final rules to restrict access to birth control by creating a broad exemption allowing virtually any employer or university with a religious or moral objection to refuse to cover contraception for their employees or students. The Center filed suit against the rules in federal court, which have since been blocked from going into effect by courts in Pennsylvania and California.