This article was written by and originally published by Common Dreams on June 13, 2020
In a move widely decried by LGBTQ, reproductive, and human rights advocates, the Trump administration late Friday finalized a healthcare rule that revokes Obama-era nondiscrimination protections for transgender and nonbinary people, patients seeking abortions, and those who do not speak English.
“No one should fear being turned away by a medical provider because of who they are or the personal health decisions they have made.”
—Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC
“This is deadly and all of us should be outraged,” declared ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling. “This is beyond heartless.”
“While people are facing alarming rates of unemployment, a loss of health insurance, and a global pandemic, the Trump administration has rolled back rules meant to ensure people are not turned away from healthcare because of who they are or what language they speak,” she said.
“The Trump administration,” Melling added, “has made a mission out of putting politicians and religious beliefs above a patient’s healthcare.”
Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) said in a statement that the administration “should be ashamed of itself for finalizing a rule that puts the lives of the most marginalized in danger during a global pandemic” and warned patients will be “put at risk by this rule.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, also issued a warning Friday, saying that “the new rules released today are hateful and cruel, and will keep people from being able to get the care they need to live happy, healthy, and productive lives.”
“Even as the death toll and catastrophe of the Covid-19 pandemic grows and people take to the streets, the Trump administration remains focused on denying equal access to healthcare to transgender people,” Keisling said. “The Trump administration has waged a non-stop campaign against transgender people, taking every opportunity to deny us the ability to live our lives as who we are.”
Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, also weighed in, the Associated Press reported. Bailey said that “the federal government should never make it more difficult for individuals to access healthcare—during a pandemic or any other time.”
The rule, announced in a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), focuses on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, which prohibits discrimination against patients in line with federal civil rights statutes. Those statutes include Title IX, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex.
“In 2016, the [Obama] administration issued a regulation implementing Section 1557 (the 2016 rule) that redefined sex discrimination to include termination of pregnancy and gender identity, which it defined as ‘one’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female,” HHS said Friday.
“HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning 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 department said. “The 2016 rule declined to recognize sexual orientation as a protected category under the ACA, and HHS will leave that judgment undisturbed.”
According to the AP:
The new rule would also affect the notices that millions of patients get in multiple languages about their rights to translation services. Such notices often come with insurer ‘explanation of benefits’ forms.
“This sanctioning of discrimination in healthcare is unlawful and immoral, and doing so while our country loses thousands of lives daily and health inequities across the board persist is especially egregious,” Goss Graves said.
“No one should fear being turned away by a medical provider because of who they are or the personal health decisions they have made,” she added. “This is beyond unacceptable, and we are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to ensure patients come first.”
The NWLC has teamed up with the Transgender Law Center, Harvard Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund to challenge the rule. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced in a statement Friday that it also intends to file to a lawsuit.
“We cannot and will not allow Donald Trump to continue attacking us,” said HRC president Alphonso David. “LGBTQ people get sick. LGBTQ people need healthcare. 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 marginalized communities, deserve equality under the law,” he added. “But we have a reality check for them: we will not let this attack on our basic right to be free from discrimination in healthcare go unchallenged.”
As David put it: “We will see them in court, and continue to challenge all of our elected officials to rise up against this blatant attempt to erode critical protections people need and sanction discrimination.”
The HHS announcement came not only during LGBTQ Pride Month but also—as David and other critics noted—on the fourth anniversary of a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people were killed and dozens more were injured, the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in American history.