This morning the Department of Health and Human Services announced a significant change in its civil rights office, and it鈥檚 bad news for transgender patients and anyone seeking an abortion. Within the HHS civil rights office, there is now a 鈥淐onscience and Religious Freedom Division,鈥 which will serve to shield health care providers who want to refuse to provide abortions and/or give treatment to transgender patients on 鈥渞eligious鈥 grounds.

The HHS is, unsurprisingly, trying to聽frame this change as a win for religious freedom 鈥 as opposed to what many others would argue as a slash in the health and human rights of women and trans people.

The HHS stated in its announcement of the new Division that it 鈥渉as been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation鈥檚 laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom. OCR is the law enforcement agency within HHS that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people鈥檚 health information.鈥澛燭he reality is that women and trans people will have a harder time getting access to essential medical care.

Politico reports that the聽new HHS rule聽will further empower the government to 鈥減unish鈥 organizations that don鈥檛 allow medical professionals to refuse treatment based on religious or moral objections. Not only will the changes mean that doctors can refuse to treat people for vague religious or 鈥渕oral鈥 reasons, but if a doctor鈥檚 employer pushes back, they could get slapped with legal action from the federal government.

The Trump administration鈥檚 vigorous commitment to so-called religious freedom over and above the health of trans people and patients seeking an abortion is cause for major concern among reproductive choice and trans health advocates.

In a statement provided to Brit + Co,聽Dr. Willie Parker, a reproductive rights advocate and chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said, 鈥淎s medical professionals, our utmost concern is that people can get timely, high-quality health care that they need without stigma or obstacles. Patient care should always come first,鈥 adding that he is 鈥渢roubled鈥 by the new HHS rule. Parker also said that he is a 鈥減erson of faith鈥 and does not see religious values at odds with a doctor鈥檚 responsibility to give all patients the care they need.

The Transgender Law Center released its own statement Thursday morning, calling the new HHS rule 鈥渆xtreme.鈥 The TLC also says the rule 鈥済rants an illegal license to discriminate against transgender people who come to the doctor or emergency room for help when our lives are in danger due to sickness, violence, or injury. It鈥檚 also an attack against all people, including many in the transgender community, who rely on critical care ranging from reproductive services to emergency services to HIV medication.鈥 The statement ended with a promise to take the government to court over the new rule.

Of course, this is not the first time the Trump administration has attacked trans people鈥檚 health. When the聽Department of Defense first announced he planned to rollback an Obama-era law that allows trans people to serve in the military, it cited the supposedly too-high cost of trans health care. But according to NBC News, this reasoning is based on essentially nothing, since trans health care costs the DOD very little in comparison with the Department鈥檚 total budget, and the health cost of cisgender people in the military.

Reproductive and trans health care also came under attack in December when word broke that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention聽were reportedly banning the use of seven words, including 鈥渇etus鈥 and 鈥渢ransgender,鈥 from official documents. Representatives of the CDC went on to refute the claim, but an NPR report would go on to observe that fewer National Science Foundation grants had been awarded to proposals that included politically charged language.

Trump has now established a thorough pattern of attack against reproductive and trans rights. And though the Trump administration claims it wants to better protect religious liberties, the reality is that the new HHS rule will make it easier for doctors to discriminate against women and all trans patients.

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(Photos via Getty; Featured illustration by Sarah Tate/ Brit + Co)