WASHINGTON-- Moving to solidify its standing with social conservatives, the Trump administration is creating an office to protect the religious rights of medical providers, including those who oppose abortion.
The announcement Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services drew immediate criticism from Democrats who said it could undermine the rights of women, gays and transgender people.
The new division will be part of the HHS Office of Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. The administration said it will focus on enforcing conscience and religious protections already part of federal law. No new efforts to expand such protections were announced.
"President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom," acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement. "That promise is being kept today."
Roger Severino, director of the HHS civil rights office, said that during the Obama era, 10 complaints were filed involving religious and conscience rights. Since Donald Trump won the White House, the office has received 34 complaints.
Religious and social conservatives are a core constituency for the Trump administration. Trump will address via satellite Friday's annual anti-abortion march in Washington.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington was quick to criticize the administration's decision to create the new office.
"This would be yet another attempt to let ideology dictate who is able to get the care they need," Murray said in a statement. "Any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their wellbeing for ideological reasons is unacceptable."
Monday marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.