Top bishops in the United States have applauded a new Trump administration healthcare rule that has alarmed LGBTQ advocates, once again raising the question of why the nation’s hierarchy so quickly opposes nearly every step towards LGBTQ equality.
The new federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidelines are broad in allowing all caregivers and organizations involved in healthcare to exempt themselves from patient care involving abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide, and advance directives. LGBTQ advocates fear these wide exemptions will negatively impact care for their communities, as well. Nevertheless, Archbishops Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Joseph Kurtz of Louisville welcomed the guidelines, saying in a statement:
“We strongly commend the Department of Health and Human Services for adopting important new regulations to ensure that existing laws protecting the rights of conscience in health care are known, followed and enforced.
Though these laws were passed on a bipartisan basis and have been policy for years, the previous administration did not fully enforce them, and now they are increasingly being violated. . .We are grateful that this Administration is taking seriously its duty to enforce these fundamental civil rights laws, and we look forward to swift action by HHS to remedy current violations in several states.”
While Naumann and Kurtz, who respectively chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Committee on Religious Liberty, focused on abortion, the HHS guidelines strengthen Catholic hospitals’ position to deny healthcare to transgender patients. Lawsuits are already in U.S. courts about such Church-related disputes (you can find more information here).
Once again, top U.S. bishops representing the entire episcopal conference have quickly and forcefully supported laws and guidelines which will negatively impact LGBTQ people. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life, writing after some bishops offered similar opposition to the Equality Act introduced in Congress earlier this year, said their approach “fails to adequately take into account the real and specific ways in which LGBTQ people face unjust discrimination.” He examined more closely whether the bishops’ fears about religious institutions being forced to violate their beliefs were founded in reality. Gehring reported in Commonweal:
“As for the USCCB’s concern that the Equality Act would potentially force Catholic doctors to perform gender-reassignment surgery for transgender patients, several Catholic-health-care experts see that as unlikely.
“‘We would assess the risk of being compelled to do these surgeries as very low,’ says Fr. Charles Bouchard, the senior director in theology and ethics at the Catholic Health Association. Bouchard emphasized the need to receive and welcome transgender patients with respect and dignity. ‘A lot of transgender people avoid health care because they have had bad experiences, and we don’t want that to happen at Catholic hospitals,’ Bouchard says. . .Misinformation and fear can often distort the conversation. ‘One of the challenges is most bishops encounter transgender issues through the so-called bathroom wars,’ he says. “’hat is not really our issue in Catholic health care. We are focused on people in clinical situations. But many bishops got spooked about the bathroom debate.’
Carol Bayley served as the ethicist at Mercy Health Services in Michigan, where she led clinical-ethics programs in seventeen acute-care hospitals; before she retired last year, she was the vice president for ethics-and-justice education at Dignity Health, a multi-hospital system in several states. Bayley calls it an ‘unfounded fear’ that Catholic hospitals will be strong-armed into performing gender-transition surgery, in large part because it’s a complicated surgery done in specialized medical centers.”
The takeaway in Gehring’s column, a truth known to LGBTQ advocates and ethicists alike, is that transgender issues are complicated. The simplistic ideas and solutions proposed by Church officials do not reflect reality. Bayley summarized it well:
“‘In the best of the church’s tradition, when we want to do something for poor people, we go out and listen to them. . .You can’t just do this in your head. You have to talk to real people. Regardless of whether we ever lift a scalpel to help a transperson in a physiological way, Catholic hospitals need to welcome them. As a church we have a set of values to do this. If bishops could use their teaching authority and remind Catholic hospitals of their call to receive everyone and welcome the stranger that would be very significant.'”
Sadly, Naumann’s and Kurtz’s latest support for the Trump administration measure works to severely undercut LGBTQ rights and offers the direct opposite witness. The U.S. bishops collectively have retained opposition to anything which would protect LGBTQ people and, after nearly a decade of campaigning for a misguided interpretation of religious liberty, have secured some victories in the age of Trump. But by defying both the vision of Pope Francis and Church teachings, Naumann, Kurtz, and their peers have tarnished the Church’s laudable tradition of healthcare that prizes serving marginalized communities Instead they claim that the policies that will do untold harm to LGBTQ patients are moral victories.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 9, 2019
The New York Times, “Trump Administration Strengthens ‘Conscience Rule’ for Health Care Workers“