Supporters of the new office, like the Family Research Council, welcomed it as a way to protect the rights of health care professionals.
Critics said the administration was giving health care providers a license to discriminate, and they raised the possibility that some doctors might deny fertility treatments to lesbian couples and that some pharmacists might refuse to fill prescriptions for certain types of contraceptives. In such situations, patients could suffer, and health care workers could violate professional or ethical obligations.
“Donald Trump’s administration is handing out permission slips for hospitals and providers to deny individuals, including women and LGBT patients, access to a full range of health services including life saving emergency care,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of the Women’s Rights Initiative at American Bridge, a Democratic advocacy group. “If there is any doubt about how morally repulsive, politically unpopular, and far-reaching the consequences of this rule will be, crafting it in secret behind closed doors and without public input says all you need to know.”
Eric D. Hargan, the acting secretary of health and human services, said the new initiative carries out an executive order issued last year by President Trump, who said that people of faith would no longer be bullied or silenced.
Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, who attended an event announcing the new office, said, “No nurse or doctor should lose her job, her livelihood or her profession because of her faith.”