The Trump administration’s Health and Human Services agency is close to enacting policies that would roll back rights for trans people and women seeking reproductive services, according to Politico.
These new policies are expected to come in the form of two new rules for healthcare providers.
One rule would replace an Obama administration policy extending nondiscrimination protections to transgender patients, which have been blocked in court. A second rule would finalize broad protections for health workers who cite religious or moral objections to providing services such as abortion or contraception, a priority for Christian conservative groups allied with the administration.
Though the rules have been in development by the administration for over a year, they haven’t been released to the public. They are now expected to be announced in the next 10 days.
Obama’s policy extending nondiscrimination protections to trans patients hasn’t been held up by the courts. It was blocked by a Texas judge in 2016 on constitutional grounds, and the Trump administration has told the judge that they agree with the ruling. The ruling centered on whether the protection in the constitution for people of all sexes covers trans people.
“The United States has returned to its long-standing position that the term ‘sex’... does not refer to gender identity,” HHS attorneys wrote in their filing.
HHS declined to comment on Politico’s reporting.
“HHS is committed to fully and vigorously enforcing all of the civil rights laws entrusted to us by Congress, to ensure that people are not subject to unlawful discrimination in HHS programs and in the provision of health and human services,” HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley told Politico.
But these new regulations are coming, and they could cause chaos for trans people and people in need of reproductive healthcare.
According to Katie Keith, a Georgetown University law professor, the new rules would give HHS “a lot more authority and power” to enforce or change policy on objections to providing healthcare that violates religious beliefs of practitioners.
Politico has some examples of what this might look like:
For instance, a medical school receiving federal funds could not deny admission to applicants who refuse to perform abortions; providers could not require staff to inform patients about services like sterilization procedures or advance directives rejecting end-of-life care; and doctors and nurses would gain further protections to refuse providing services like vaccinations.
That sounds like a disaster!
Trans advocates have condemned the new rules, saying they’ll allow discrimination against patients.
“It really is going to worsen a situation that is already bad for a lot of people,” Gillian Branstetter, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Washington Post. “It’s going to send a mixed signal to providers about where transgender people stand as patients.”
Trans people already face discrimination when seeking treatment, proven in documents from HHS itself, obtained by the Center for American Progress in 2018. Studies have shown that 1 in 3 trans people has had issues with insurance companies and 1 in 4 with a medical provider.
The administration knows they will face backlash when these new rules are announced. They’re planning on emphasizing that the rules will save money by lowering the amount of required regulation and that they will strengthen religious liberty.
But religious objections to medical practice are rare. Only 10 of the 7,600 civil rights complaints received by HHS in 2018 regarded conscience rights and needed to be investigated.
HHS knows they will face lawsuits when the new rules are announced, which is one of the reasons their development has been kept so quiet.
“If the final rule looks like the proposal we are anticipating, we and our partners will file suit as soon as possible,” ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio told the Hill. “We can expect many legal challenges to any final rule.”