HHS defends withholding comments critical of abortion, transgender policy

Source: Politico

HHS is defending its decision to withhold more than 10,000 public comments on a proposal that could affect access to abortion and care for transgender patients.

“There has been a voluminous response to the [request for information], and the center’s team is working through a review of the submissions,” Shannon Royce, who leads the agency’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is overseeing the proposal, said in a statement on Monday night.

The Trump administration in October sought public comments on its plan to reduce HHS’ regulations for religious and faith-based groups. Allies and opponents of the plan say the stakes are high: Loosening the current requirements could allow such groups to cite religious exemptions and deny certain services and care. For example, Catholic hospitals could gain new protections to refuse to provide abortions.

While HHS received 10,729 comments on its proposal, the agency has only posted 80 comments — less than 1 percent of all submissions — that overwhelmingly back the administration’s anti-abortion policies or attack regulations advanced by the Obama administration, such as a rule forcing health care providers that accept federal funding to provide services to transgender patients. Sources with knowledge of HHS’ decision say the agency hand-picked the comments that it released.

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