The following comments were submitted to the US Department of Health and Human Services in response to proposed rules that would allow health care workers to refuse to treat individuals or provide services they object to on religious or moral grounds.
March 27, 2018
US Department of Health and Human Services
Office for Civil Rights
Attention: Conscience NPRM, RIN 0945-ZA03
Hubert H. Humphrey Building, Room 509F
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
RE: Docket HHS-OCR-2018-002
To the Department of Health and Human Services:
I am writing on behalf of DignityUSA, the organization of Catholics committed to justice, equality and full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people in our church and in society. Our organization represents the majority of the more than 70 million Catholics in the United States who believe that people should not suffer discrimination due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. We support religious liberty for all people, no matter where they work, where they receive their healthcare or what they believe. We also believe that all people have the right to appropriate, respectful, comprehensive medical care, and that this right should be respected, not trumped by their healthcare provider’s religious objections.
We believe that the Department of Health and Human Services is granting extreme exemptions that will imperil access to healthcare for many in the LGBTQI community and beyond. This new rule both expands the type of care an individual provider or an entity may refuse as well as broadening the scope of those eligible to refuse in the first place. No person should be denied critical healthcare such as HIV & AIDS treatment and prevention, reproductive assistance, gender confirmation services, access to contraception, or any other service because their provider has personal objections to that care. No one should be denied care because of who they are or whom they love. That is not protecting conscience—it is discrimination, plain and simple. This is an affront to our deeply held respect for conscience and the values of dignity, respect and autonomy that our Catholic faith compels us to uphold.
This kind of broad authorization to discriminate validates an illegitimate claim to religious liberty for institutions while distorting true religious liberty and denying the healthcare needs of individuals. It dangerously allows providers to keep their patients in the dark about why they are being refused care and will allow providers and entities to refuse to even provide referrals to other institutions where people can find the care they need. Patients will suffer because of this policy. It will only increase, not decrease, the burden of many rural and low-income patients who may not have access to another provider or healthcare institution.
As Catholics, our organization believes that HHS has a duty to protect people’s health and that the federal government should safeguard the religious liberty of people seeking services or healthcare, not champion rules that amount to government-sanctioned discrimination. We believe that the government does not have the right to impose burdens on some people, in this case LGBTQI people, and particularly those with the fewest resources and the least access to healthcare, that others do not face. We believe these rules will compromise the lives, health, and equal treatment of LGBTQI people.
We are aware that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is supporting these proposed rules. Let me be clear that, although USCCB officials may speak on behalf of that organization, they do not represent the views of US Catholics on this matter.
I urge the department to return to its mission of fostering people’s health and wellbeing rather than undermining access to healthcare and warping religious liberty. I ask you to represent the vast majority of Catholics and non-Catholics alike in this country who reject religion being used as a tool for discrimination. I urge you to reconsider these harsh new regulations.