Trump protecting medical providers who oppose abortion

Donald Trump
FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is threatening to cut off aid money to the Palestinian Authority and acknowledging that the Middle East peace process appears to be stalled. Trump says in a pair of tweets that, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue ...peace treaty with Israel.”(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Moving to solidify its standing with social conservatives, the Trump administration is creating an office to protect the religious rights of medical providers, including those who oppose abortion.

The announcement Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services drew immediate criticism from Democrats who said it could undermine the rights of women, gays and transgender people.

The new division will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. The administration said it will focus on enforcing conscience and religious protections already part of federal law. No new efforts to expand such protections were announced.

“President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement. “That promise is being kept today.”

The HHS civil rights office gets a small number of complaints involving religious and conscience rights, but the number has grown since President Donald Trump was elected.

Roger Severino, director of the HHS civil rights office, said that from 2008 to Nov. 2016, HHS received 10 such complaints. Since Trump won, the office has received new 34 complaints.

Religious and social conservatives are a core constituency for the Trump administration. Trump will address via satellite Friday’s annual anti-abortion march in Washington.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington was quick to criticize the administration’s decision to create the new office.

“This would be yet another attempt to let ideology dictate who is able to get the care they need,” Murray said in a statement. “Any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their wellbeing for ideological reasons is unacceptable.”

Monday marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

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