Roger Severino, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, is setting rules that are meant to protect religious rights, and said that he has faced political and religious discrimination.
Severino, the son of South American immigrants, said that when he grew up in Los Angeles, "people attempted to close doors in front of me, and I've had to fight to pry them open," he said, The Hill reported.
While working at the Department of Justice's civil rights office, he said a supervisor, noting Severino's religious and conservative beliefs, said to him, "I thought we were done hiring people like you."
The conservative advocate opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, and his goal at HHS is to make sure that health workers who have objections on religious or moral grounds are not forced to participate in abortion or other procedures, and are not threatened with firing from their jobs if they refuse, the report said.
"Nurses and doctors who dedicate their careers to saving lives should not be coerced into helping take lives in abortion or assisted suicide," Severino said.
The director launched an Office for Civil Rights division focused on enforcing laws to allow health professionals to opt out of such procedures. Another rule, which has not yet been finalized, would put entities funded by HHS at risk of losing funding if they do not comply with the conscience regulations, the report said.
Democrats and LGBT advocates blast the rules, saying that those who discriminate against gay and transgender people could say they are doing so on religious grounds.
"This has been a problem for many years, but we're profoundly concerned these proposed changes and change in focus will inevitably worsen an already bad situation," said Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director of Lambda Legal, which focuses on LGBT rights.
"Religious liberty is a fundamental American value, but religious should not permit a person to cause harm to others or subvert the rights of others," said Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Bobby Scott, D-Va.
"All we're doing is saying that we will be enforcing all of the civil rights laws. And all those civil rights laws include conscience and religious freedom," Severino said in an NPR report in March.
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