White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not respond to a question on Tuesday about whether President Joe Biden would force doctors to perform abortions and transgender surgeries against their faith beliefs.
During a press briefing, a reporter from global Catholic network EWTN asked Psaki:
Pro-life groups right now are very concerned about the phrase “pregnancy discrimination” in the Equality Act. You’re familiar with that, I’m sure, that it would force doctors to perform abortions even if it violates their conscience. There are also concerns the bill would force doctors to perform gender transition surgeries and sterilizations, again, even if it violates their conscience. What does the president, President Biden, say about those concerns?
The president’s been a long supporter of Roe v. Wade. It has been his consistent belief that should be law, and he will fight to continue to protect that as being law.
“Conscience concerns, is that a concern of his?” the reporter asked again.
“I think again I’m just going to state what the president’s policies are. Did you have another question?” Psaki asked.
“Will President Biden keep the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at HHS, the office that was put in place under President Trump, keep it in place to receive conscience complaints from those doctors?” the reporter asked.
“You’ll have to talk to a future Secretary Becerra once he is confirmed,” Psaki replied.
CatholicVote, a national faith-based advocacy organization, reacted to the exchange on Twitter that such a policy “would roll back entire First Amendment protections for doctors, health care providers and hospitals”:
Policy would roll back entire First Amendment protections for doctors, health care providers and hospitals
— CatholicVote.org (@CatholicVote) March 2, 2021
In a recent interview with Breitbart News, Roger Severino, the Trump administration Office for Civil Rights (OCR) director at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), discussed his concern about the fate of the initiative referenced by the reporter in the exchange with Psaki.
Under Severino’s direction, the HHS OCR Conscience and Religious Freedom Division was announced in January 2018 as a means to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental rights of conscience and religious freedom”:
OCR Announces New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. It will restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental rights of conscience and religious freedom. https://t.co/oqcS4y70SG
— HHS OCR (@HHSOCR) January 18, 2018
“They are doubling down on the cultural wars,” Severino said of the Biden administration. “There is a national consensus that whatever one thinks about the legality of abortion, you don’t force people to perform it against their will. You don’t force people to pay for it. Yet President Biden has said he’s going to repeal the Hyde Amendment and tear down conscience protections, including for the Little Sisters of the Poor. And that, that is disrespectful to life, conscience, and religious freedom.”
During the press briefing, Psaki responded the matter of whether the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of OCR would continue would need to be referred to Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to lead HHS, should he be confirmed.
“I can’t imagine a more divisive pick for such an important agency during a pandemic,” Severino said of Becerra. “His background is not health care, it’s not epidemiology. In fact, he is most famous, in terms of HHS, for being my antagonist.”
Severino noted some of his confrontations with Becerra involved the California attorney general’s targeting of pro-life pregnancy centers and his alleged violation of the Weldon Amendment in requiring health insurance plans to cover elective abortions.
The Equality Act, which has already passed the House, exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which means religious hospitals, schools, and other entities could face federal sanctions under the legislation, if enacted, for upholding their teachings and beliefs with regard to life, sexuality, and marriage.
The legislation states:
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.
The Equality Act’s text also states:
Discrimination can occur on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes. Each of these factors alone can serve as the basis for discrimination, and each is a form of sex discrimination.
“Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy,” is a phrase that could be used to bring lawsuits against healthcare providers who refuse to perform an abortion or to outlaw policies that ban taxpayer funding for the procedure.
Melanie Israel of the Heritage Foundation explained the legislation would force the term “sex” in the Civil Rights Act to mean pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, and the last of these — “related medical conditions” — has already been interpreted to include abortion by both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The Equality Act is legislative malpractice that turns equality on its head. It isn’t drafted as a shield to protect vulnerable minorities from unjust discrimination, but as a sword to persecute those who do not embrace new sexual and gender ideologies. https://t.co/YSWJpB6R7m
— Ryan T. Anderson (@RyanTAnd) February 19, 2021
Ryan Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called the Equality Act “legislative malpractice that turns equality on its head.”
“It isn’t drafted as a shield to protect vulnerable minorities from unjust discrimination, but as a sword to persecute those who do not embrace new sexual and gender ideologies,” he tweeted.