Donald Trump‘s administration has rolled back nondiscrimination healthcare protections for women and transgender people by reversing a rule that would prevent healthcare workers and insurance companies that receive federal funds from refusing to provide services like abortion or gender-affirming care.
The rule changes could allow health providers to deny coverage and care to women and transgender people, as the nation is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.
Invoking “religious freedom”, the Department of Health and Human Services had revised a rule under the Affordable Care Act to revert to “the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology”.
The changes revoke discrimination protections on the basis of ”gender identity” and sex, including patients seeking an abortion.
They are likely to be challenged in court: the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign and other groups have already announced plans to sue the administration.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, with our nation in uproar over a systemic devaluing of Black lives, this administration chose to prioritise a rule change attempting to roll back anti-discrimination protections in health care,” said LGBT+ legal advocacy organisation Lambda Legal. “Despicable doesn’t begin to describe it.”
Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David, said: ”LGBTQ people should not live in fear that they cannot get the care they need simply because of who they are. It is clear that this administration does not believe that LGBTQ people, or other marginalised communities, deserve equality under the law.”
Initial rules under former president Barack Obama‘s administration established civil rights protections in healthcare, barring discrimination on the basis of race, colour, national origin, age, disability or sex as well as gender identity. Health providers and insurers, under those anti-discrimination rules, would have to cover costs associated with gender-affirming care
Sought by Christian conservative groups that the president has courted for his campaign, the rule changes have been widely condemned by health advocates who fear that the administration is endangering already-vulnerable patients amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The rule changes also end Obama-era requirements that health providers offer non-English signage, alarming health organisations that serve immigrant communities.
“Neither a global pandemic, nor national uprisings over racist violence, nor Pride month will stop the Trump administration from doing everything in its power to discriminate, divide, and reduce access to healthcare,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.
“This cruel and discriminatory rule will only make it harder for transgender people, immigrants, and people seeking sexual and reproductive services to get care, and could even prevent people from getting the care they need entirely.”
The move is part of the administration’s sweeping attempts to rewrite sex discrimination across housing, education and employment policy.
A number of transgender health and advocacy groups are also joining legal challenges to the rule changes, which “contradict federal law and two decades of court rulings and put up more unnecessary barriers between 2 million trans people in the US and the healthcare and insurance coverage they need,” according to the Transgender Law Centre.
“Trans people should be able to seek medical care when we need help without being turned away or denied treatment because of who we are,” executive director Kris Hayashi said in a statement. “This appalling move by the Trump administration puts the lives of trans people in jeopardy – especially trans people living with HIV, Black trans people and trans people of colour, trans people with disabilities, and trans people living in rural areas and in Southern states.”
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