WASHINGTON, D.C. — LGBTQ citizens’ access to healthcare just got a little more tenuous based in the so called “Denial of Care Rule,” which basically allows anyone who expresses a moral or religious objection to deny treating LGBTQ individuals, those living with HIV/AIDS and women seeking reproductive care.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said its move establishes “conscience protections,” whereby the department’s Office for Civil Rights would take the side of individuals who do not want to provide services, such as abortion, that they say conflict with their morals or religion.

The rule was proposed more than a year ago, and reinforces a set of 25 laws passed by Congress that protect so called “conscience rights” in healthcare according to HHS.

The department said in its announcement that it is creating a new division, dubbed the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, within its civil rights office that will devote resources and personnel to enforcing the new guidelines and ensuring compliance.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, spoke at the announcement last week, praising the rule and blasting the department’s policies under former President Barack Obama.

“In the past, this department’s silent refusal to defend our rights sent a very clear message: Now is not the time for freedom; it is the time for you to conform,” McCarthy said. “What a difference one year makes.”

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Rights issued a statement saying, “The Denial of Care rule does nothing but encourage discrimination in healthcare against LGBTQ people, people living with HIV and women, all of whom already face frequent and pervasive discrimination when seeking healthcare. The government’s role is to support access to care by protecting patients’ rights, not to promote the notion that healthcare providers have a license to discriminate against already vulnerable patient populations.

“The Denial of Care rule also stands in direct conflict with the Joint Commission and the major medical and health professional associations representing physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, social workers and other healthcare providers that have adopted standards to ensure all patients, including LGBTQ patients, are treated with respect and without bias and discrimination in all healthcare settings. All major health professional associations, including the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Psychological Association and National Association of Social Workers, have adopted policies recognizing the detrimental impact discrimination has on the health and well-being of LGBTQ people.

“As we expressed previously, this regulation endangers the lives of LGBTQ people by encouraging healthcare providers to refuse care based on a moral objection. Any such measure is antithetical to the values we share as healthcare providers.

“In light of this announcement, GLMA will redouble its advocacy efforts to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ patients and ensure healthcare providers uphold the ethical standards of their professions by providing care to patients free of bias and discrimination.”

GLMA’s stated mission is to ensure equality in healthcare for LGBTQ individuals and healthcare professionals by “working to combat homophobia within the medical profession and in society at large; to promote quality health care for LGBTQ and HIV-positive people; and to support members challenged by discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Policy Director Julianna S. Gonen issued this statement:

“This rule does not just implement existing federal conscience protections for healthcare providers, it dramatically expands them in ways that will lead to dangerous denials of reproductive health care, and put vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ people, at risk of increased discrimination. We’ve seen firsthand, through our Legal Help Line and our Rural Pride campaign, that health care discrimination against LGBTQ people is already pervasive and causes serious harm to individuals and families. In many communities in this country, LGBTQ people routinely face open hostility and outright denials of care from doctors, hospitals, therapists, and other health care providers. Rather than addressing this serious problem, HHS issued a rule that will make it worse.”