Our Family Coalition joins the many reproductive rights, LGBTQ, and civil rights groups in strongly condemning the Trump Administration’s new “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division in the U.S. Department Health and Human Services, announced yesterday.
Directing federal resources to provide additional protections for health care providers “who refuse to perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds” is a de facto license to discriminate, plain and simple.
Debates about medical ethics and freedom of conscience refusals have been around long before this administration. But according to the American Medical Association’s own Principles of Medical Ethics, the medical profession has never undermined physicians’ right to “choose whom to serve and whom to associate with, excepting emergencies.” However:
conscientious objection must be tempered by the statements of principle 8; which states when caring for a patient, physicians must regard the interests of the patient as “paramount;” and principle 9 which states that physicians shall support access to medical care for all peoples.
And over ten years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics made clear:
In an emergency in which referral is not possible or might negatively affect a patient’s physical or mental health, providers have an obligation to provide medically indicated and requested care regardless of the providers moral objections.1
The establishment clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment also makes it clear: the federal government has no business in the religion business. Neither in prohibiting the free exercise of it, nor in elevating one in particular.
We’ve already seen the impact on LGBTQ families of this federally promoted religious conservatism. In their brief to the Supreme Court case on the Makepiece Cakeshop last October, our colleagues at Family Equality Council shared testimony from a lesbian couple in Texas, who faced denial of service from a pediatric dentist, in spite of their two-year-old crying and bleeding from a knocked-out front tooth after a fall:
H.C. recounts: “I was at work at the time. When my wife and daughter arrived at the dentist’s office, he asked my wife ‘who is the real mother?’ … My wife … explained that M.C. has two mothers. The dentist told my wife that ‘a child cannot have two mothers’ and said that he would only see the biological mother (me) of our daughter with a birth certificate as proof. My wife called me sobbing, and told me, ‘They want the real mom to be here. You have to come and bring M.C.’s birth certificate before they will treat her.’ I was shocked. … We were blindsided by this whole encounter.
Although my wife and I … expected we might face discrimination at some point in our lives …, we never expected to face discrimination from a medical provider—especially from someone taking care of our child. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for this.”
Something similar happened in Michigan. And these are just two cases of many. Our colleagues at Lambda Legal have outlined the legal problems and social impact this new division will cause, and outline its roots in the Trump Administration’s abuse of arguments on behalf of “religious freedom,” which it has used to justify attacks on LGBTQ people and women since its first month in power.
Religious freedom means a lot of things to a lot of people. So, evidently, does democracy. If the past several years in American politics have shown us anything, it’s that these fundamentals are more vulnerable than we may ever have thought. Our communities, our children, and indeed our love of these basic tenets demands that if we cherish them, we have to fight vigilantly for them. Our Family Coalition is here, side by side with our communities and allies, to do so.
Join us! By submitting a post for this blog or our newsletter, or getting on our Speakers’ Bureau, or coming with us to Sacramento to speak with legislators, or coming to volunteer at any of our dozens of monthly community events. Together, we will ensure that the bright spirit of our democracy remains undimmed, for the whole of the extended American family.
1. Both the American Medical Association statement and theAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics statement can be found in Felipe Vizcarrondo, MD, MA, FCP’s “Freedom of Conscience Revisited,” in the March 2016 American College of Pediatricians Issues in Medical Ethics.