HHS Secretary Defends Religious Refusals Following New Rule That Restricts Health Care Access

Azar falsely claims that his department’s focus on protecting “religious freedom” won’t impact health care

05.07.19 – Last Friday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended his department’s focus on protecting providers’ ability to deny patients care, saying its rule will not impact access to health care.

“We do believe we can both respect access for people, as well as protect the rights and conscience of health care providers,” Azar said Friday at his alma mater, Dartmouth College. This is blatantly false.

“The Trump administration banned trans people from military service. It sought to redefine gender as sex assigned at birth. It went after access to birth control. It stood in the way of immigrant women accessing abortion. The list of attacks on LGBTQ people and women goes on and on. And now Azar wants us to believe that he will protect our right to health care? Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Secretary. We already hear and feel the administration's actions. Your words mean nothing.

The new rule is more of the same as Azar doubles down on his efforts to roll back access to health care in the name of ‘religious freedom.’ But ‘religious freedom’ isn’t an excuse to discriminate, and this new rule would allow health care providers to do just that,” said Mary Alice Carter, Executive Director of Equity Forward. “Azar’s health department should be focused on protecting the health and well-being of all Americans, not pandering to right-wing forces that are trying to roll access back.”

The day before Azar’s talk, HHS finalized its “conscience” rule, which allows health care professionals to deny medical services that violate their moral or religious beliefs. This rule would have far-reaching impacts on millions of Americans:

  • Health care workers, from ambulance drivers to nurses to physicians, could opt out of providing medical care when they disagree with a patient’s identity, beliefs or medical decisions.

    • For example, a pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for birth control or a mental health provider could refuse to see a patient who is transgender or in a same-sex relationship.

  • The rule will erect new barriers to already targeted communities' ability to gain crucial access to medical services.

The latest rule is part of a broader campaign led by right-wing forces — including current officials at HHS — to restrict health care access.

  • In the coming months, HHS is expected to propose a rule that will roll back nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.

  • The Supreme Court is also slated to consider cases that pit religious liberty against LGBTQ rights.