The Trump Administration seems bent on prioritizing religious “freedoms” over human needs — including medical needs. On one hand, they’ve essentially declared themselves enemies of public health systems. On the other, they seem to want to bring the entire “free market” of the health care industry under Christianity’s banner of moral rule.
By that I mean, there’s another “Obama-era” idea on the chopping block. It involves discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community and access to health care. This is a humanistic and practical issue — not an ideological one. It’s about what happens when we prioritize dogma over human need.
So, What’s Going on with Religion and Health Care?
The Trump Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have signaled that they wish to do away with protections included in the Health Care Rights Law. It’s also known as “Section 1557” of the Affordable Care Act. The Health Care Rights Law made it illegal to interfere with a person’s pursuit of medical care or coverage based on that person’s national origin, gender, age, race or disability.
In other words, a person who wishes to purchase health care services may not be turned away by a religious person who doesn’t “agree with” that would-be patient’s “lifestyle.”
The excuse the Administration is using to get away with it appears to involve their interpretation of the phrase “on the basis of sex.” To be more specific, the Administration wishes to test the theory that the original law’s use of the phrase “on the basis of sex” does not explicitly protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under the Obama Administration, it was understood that these rules extended to matters of gender identity — until 2016. That’s when a federal judge, buckling under lawsuits from religious groups, decided to break from his contemporaries and block that interpretation of the rules from taking effect.
Now, the Trump Administration has a chance of their own to “clarify” the law and remake it in their own image.
Religious Freedom and the Freedom to Discriminate
What’s at stake here, realistically?
According to Georgetown University’s Katie Keith, the Trump Administration is “Adding explicit religious exemptions and completely eliminating prior protections for LGBTQ people.”
The Health Care Rights Law protected patients of any health care institution which receives public funding, which means insurance companies, doctors and individual practitioners, and hospitals and emergency clinics. With these amended HHS rules, it will be legal for medical personnel and insurance companies to turn away transgender and other “non-conforming” persons and deny them the care they want or need, in accordance with the strictures of that doctor’s or health system’s sponsoring religion.
The Trump Administration may wish it to look like they’re only “clarifying” or “making consistent” the way concepts like “sex discrimination” are defined and enforced across government offices. But the timing is unmistakable. HHS made its announcement just days after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) signaled its belief that federally funded homeless shelters should be permitted to turn away transgender aid-seekers.
We already see stories all the time about Catholic hospitals, for example, refusing to tie a woman’s tubes even when her life is in peril, calling the procedure (and often the patient) “evil.” This kind of disregard for patient welfare, on the altar of religious conformity, is becoming more and more common under the Trump Administration. Doctors are saying these proposed changes represent a “conscience rule” that will make it far too easy for “religious objectors” in the health system to deny transgender individuals even the doctor-prescribed care and medications they’re due.
And that’s something a civilized nation cannot allow. Many of us know by now that a variety of conflicts do still exist in the insurance world, but at the end of the day, insurance companies are meant to work for families and patients, and can do that when the people in charge act ethically.
There’s no question that, as LGBTQ+ advocacy groups put it, the dignity of the human person, as a general concept, is under assault here. The single-mindedness, when it comes to using our institutions to remake this country in the image of Christian Conservative America, is utterly terrifying.
This Administration seems to move quickly when it wants something, but it’s still hopelessly behind the times in so many ways. The good news is, the Trump Administration can expect a flurry of lawsuits as they proceed with this. That federal judge in 2016 was one of the few to object to the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the HCR Law.
No matter what changes this administration wants to bring to the Affordable Care Act, they’re moving against popular opinion and legal precedent. Quite simply: People agree that our laws (to say nothing of our national values) provide for the protection and well-being of all people, including transgender people. To allow religion to interfere with that concept is inherently outrageous, and will not be tolerated by the people.