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Conscience and Religious Freedom Division Marks Its First Anniversary with Action

In January 2018, the Trump administration established the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights with the explicit goal of intensifying legal protection of religious and conscience objections in health care. The establishment of OCR’s new division illustrates the significant powers of administrative agencies to mold the substance of law without seeking legislative action. The mere formation of a division dedicated to protecting conscience rights is already having a significant impact; it is causing health care entities, including hospitals, research organizations, and clinics, to change policies and practices to comply with the declared enforcement strategy. Administrative agencies also shape the law in what they decide not to pursue. For example, OCR has suspended enforcement of the Affordable Care Act prohibition against gender-identity discrimination.

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