The Trump administration announced Thursday that the Department of Health and Human Services will create an office focused on protecting the religious rights of medical providers, including those who oppose abortion.
This office will be a new division of the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, which enforces anti-discrimination and privacy laws, the Associated Press reported. The administration says it wants to focus on enforcing religious protections that are already part of the law, no effort to expand protections were noted in the announcement.
"President Donald Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom," Eric Hargan, the department's acting secretary, said in a statement released Thursday. "That promise is being kept today."
The announcement has drawn criticism from Democrats who claim the move could undermine women, gays, and transgender peoples’ rights.
"This would be yet another attempt to let ideology dictate who is able to get the care they need," Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) said of the new office. "Any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their wellbeing for ideological reasons is unacceptable."
The Office of Civil Rights has received a growing number of complaints involving religious and conscience rights since November 2016. The office director, Roger Severino, said during the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, a total of 10 complaints of the sort were filed. Since Trump was elected, 34 complaints have been filed.
The White House announced this week that Trump will address the annual pro-life march in Washington, D.C. on Friday through live-streamed video.