Center for Reproductive Rights, National Women’s Law Center, File Freedom of Information Act Request to Investigate HHS Division Devoted to Promoting Health Care Discrimination

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– (PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Women’s Law Center filed today a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information about why the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has created a new division dedicated exclusively to enforcing religious and moral refusal laws.

One day after the administration announced the new office, HHS issued a proposed rule that would drastically expand the scope of the division’s enforcement. The rule would encourage providers to discriminate against patients and to deny health care, including abortion, under the pretext of religious freedom.

The Trump administration has cited an increase in religious and moral refusal complaints since November 2016 as a reason to create the OCR division. But the proposed rule shows that between 2008 and 2016, HHS received a total of ten complaints alleging a violation of religious or moral refusal laws over a period of eight years. The Center for Reproductive Rights and NWLC have filed the FOIA request to scrutinize the circumstances around the reported increase and to increase transparency around the creation of the new division. 

Said Maya Rupert, Senior Director, Policy and Managing Director, D.C. Office:

“From day one, President Trump and his administration have signaled their goal to limit women’s ability to access reproductive health care under the guise of promoting religious liberty. This new subdivision is just the latest effort to cynically pit religious freedom against reproductive freedom. 

“Given this track record, the public is entitled to a clear and complete picture of exactly how this subdivision will be used to undermine women's access to health care."

Said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health:

“Don’t be duped—the Trump administration’s new HHS unit is not about protecting religious liberty. It’s the same excuse they’ve used repeatedly to attack the rights, health care, and equality of women.

“We filed this FOIA request because we believe this is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. Instead of devoting resources to an office focused only on protecting those who would use their religious or moral beliefs to deny patients care, the Trump administration needs to enforce non-discrimination laws and make sure patients get the care they need.”

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration has prioritized religious or moral exemptions above 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.