WASHINGTON – Today, United States Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05) introduced H.R. 5626, the Eliminating the HHS Discrimination Division Act. This important legislation eliminates the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) established by the Administration in 2018 in the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The bill saves taxpayer money by eliminating the Division, which was created to enforce a refusal of care rule that would jeopardize access to medical services, including abortion and gender affirmation surgery among others.
The Division handles a minuscule amount of cases annually despite receiving significant funding. In Fiscal Year 2018, there were 784 CRFD complaints, of which only 6% were closed, and 5% didn’t require any formal investigation at all. During the same period, there was a nearly 50% increase in civil rights cases and a nearly 20% increase in health information privacy cases. Despite this, HHS requested a more than $1 million funding increase for CRFD – covering six new staffers – while making deep cuts to other Divisions in the Office of Civil Rights with significantly heavier caseloads.
“I have been vocal about my personal faith journey, but nobody should be forced to live their life according to the religious values of another,” said Congresswoman Jahana Hayes. “The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division for the Department of Health and Human Services attempts to do just that. Instead of fulfilling the intended goal of the Office of Civil Rights to protect patients, the Trump Administration is wasting taxpayer dollars solving a problem that does not exist. This bill does not end religious exemptions, instead it eliminates a wasteful government division. I urge my colleagues to stand for good government and religious freedom by voting to abolish the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.”
The Eliminating the HHS Discrimination Division Act has been endorsed by a number of both religious and secular organizations, including the: National Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, National Center for Transgender Equality, Human Rights Campaign, Center for American Progress, ACLU, Americans United For Separation of Church and State, True Colors CT, AIDS CT, PFLAG, Catholics for Choice, National Council of Jewish Women, Muslims for Progressive Values, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Jewish Women International, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Keshet, and Center for Reproductive Rights.
Fatima Goss Graves, president & CEO, National Women's Law Center (NWLC): “The HHS Office for Civil Rights is supposed to prohibit discrimination in health care. But the Trump-Pence administration created this division to protect those who would use their personal beliefs to dictate patient care. The administration must stop diverting critical resources to fund this division and allow providers to deny patients health care with impunity. This is nothing short of taxpayer-funded discrimination. The division must be eliminated. We applaud Congresswoman Jahana Hayes for introducing this bill and fighting to protect patients’ access to health care.”
Jacqueline Ayers, Vice President, Government Relations & Public Policy, Planned Parenthood Federation of America: “We thank Congresswoman Hayes for leading this legislation to stop the Trump administration’s policies that both waste taxpayer dollars and provide cover for discrimination. Women, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities already face discrimination in the health care system and other parts of their lives. No one should have to worry they will be denied the medical care they need simply because of their health care provider’s religious, moral, or personal beliefs. And the U.S. government should certainly not be defending and promoting such discrimination. At Planned Parenthood, we will always fight for your access to the health care you need, including safe, legal abortion — no matter what you look like, where you are from, or who you love.”
Robin McHaelen, Executive Director, True Colors: “The HHS Discrimination Division is an abomination. It targets the most vulnerable among us for discrimination regarding the most basic of human rights – competent, affirming, health care and emergency treatment. LGBTQ+ youth are already at higher risk for violence, homelessness, suicide and abuse. CRFD would exponentially increase their risks. Some of my kids will die if the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is created.”
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, Acting President, Catholics for Choice: “Catholics for Choice—along with the majority of the 70 million Catholics in the United States--resoundingly rejects the use of religion as a rationale for discrimination. Our faith teaches that individual conscience is at the core of who we are as Catholics. Federal agencies should strive to ensure that each of us is free to decide for ourselves what is right, what is best and how we exercise our fundamental freedom of religion. We stand with U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes and thank her for introducing a bill to abolish the HHS Discrimination Division—their so-called Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Office of Civil Rights.”
Susan D. Inman, Director, Federal Policy & Advocacy, Center for Reproductive Rights: “The Department of Health and Human Services has chosen to deprioritize civil rights enforcement and instead devote resources and staff to focus on a problem that they have been unable to prove even exists. Eliminating this Division would end an unnecessary and wasteful expense of taxpayer dollars and remind HHS to focus on its mission: to ensure access to healthcare for all.”
Rep. Jahana Hayes has been a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year. Currently serving her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District.