Eustace fights Trump religious freedom rules

By Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Jan 19, 2018 at 10:02 am
Updated

In response to President Donald Trump’s announcement that his administration is creating a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that could jeopardize support for women’s health and LGBTQ patients, one New Jersey lawmaker is already drafting a bill to shield New Jersey.

“This directive goes well beyond religious liberty and undermines the safety and well-being of our citizens. It’s another clear example of a failing presidency pandering to the divisive, hate-mongering far right — the only fervent base they have left,” Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Lodi) said in a statement Thursday. “This vague directive not only discriminates against women, but could open the door for blatant discrimination against the LGBT community. I would hope that no medical professional, especially one who has taken the Hippocratic Oath, would refuse life-saving treatment to someone because they are a member of the LGBT community.”

Eustace announced he is drafting legislation to stop the federal directives from taking effect in the state, and will introduce a resolution to condemn the move by the Trump administration.

Reports Friday suggest HHS will not permit the rules, aimed largely at protecting the rights of health workers who do not want to participate in abortions, to allow discrimination of the LGBT community as well.

But that hasn’t stopped activists from worrying in New Jersey.

The move by the Trump administration comes at a time when New Jersey’s health care industry has increasingly been paying attention to the needs of the LGBTQ community, including a center focused on patients at the RWJBarnabas Health hospital in Somerset. In fact, the hospital partnered with Garden State Equality to host its first LGBT health care community conference in October.

State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown) also condemned Trump’s intentions Thursday.

“The Trump administration’s announcement today that it is creating a new governmental agency within the Department of Health and Human Services to patently legalize discrimination that has already been repudiated by federal case law is unconscionable,” Singleton said. “If we allow medical professionals to pick and choose whom they care for based on a person’s sexuality or gender, what comes next? Undoubtedly, allowing for this type of discriminatory litmus test is a slippery slope that can lead to catastrophic results, including loss of life. 

“This is America. Religious beliefs and access to medical care should not be mutually exclusive of each other. Certainly, we are capable of respecting someone’s religious beliefs while at the same time ensuring that patients regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification receive the health care, treatments and, most importantly, the dignity they deserve.”

In a statement Friday, Garden State Equality said the announcement from Trump isn’t directly aimed at the LGBTQ community, but it can impact those patients, too.

“It’s the latest attempt by the Trump administration to roll back the clock to the 1950s by allowing medical providers to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and a women’s right to control her own body,” GSE said. “This recent decision is meant allow health care professionals the ability to refuse treatment to patients on the basis of religious convictions or moral objections. Not only is this unethical, but it is dangerous. Although the main priority is directed to refusing people seeking abortion services, it can include refusing patients because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

GSE also thanked Eustace for announcing a draft of a bill.

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem