Health Department to Eliminate Transgender Protections

The National Center for Transgender Equality, NCTE, and the Human Rights Campaign gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington on Oct. 22, 2018, for a #WontBeErased rally. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Civil rights groups responded with outrage Friday after the Trump administration announced it would rescind policies barring discrimination against transgender people seeking medical care.

Released today by the Department of Health and Human Services, the 204-page proposal purports to rescind a provision of the federal health care law that says patients could not be turned away for health care or denied coverage because they are transgender. The nondiscrimination policies had been put in place under former President Barack Obama.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union called the shift “nothing less than an act of violence” against transgender and nonbinary people who already experience disproportionate discrimination.

Transgender people face harassment, negligence care and refusal of medical services as it is, Melling noted.

“The proposed rule is a central component of the Trump administration’s strategy to exclude transgender people from sex discrimination protections,” Melling said.

Roger Severino, director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights said Friday the rollback is meant to streamline regulations.

“When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term and we are making our regulations conform,” Severino said in a statement.

The proposed rule amends regulations identifying sexual orientation or gender identity “as prohibited bases for discrimination for certain Department funded or administered programs,” and also states that nothing in the proposal should be “construed to require or prohibit any person pr public or private entity to provide or pay for any benefit for service, including the use of facilities, related to an abortion.”

Friday’s announcement marks the third attempt this week to roll back civil rights protections for members of the LGBT community.

On Tuesday, the administration finalized a rule that allows health care workers to refuse to treat patients for medical procedures that violate their conscience, including abortion and sex-reassignment surgery.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development meanwhile proposed a rule Wednesday that would allow homeless shelters and other similar facilities to turn away transgender applicants.

According to Housing draft proposal, shelter providers would be able to determine entry by weighing “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs and religious consideration under civil rights and nondiscrimination authorities, the individual’s sex as reflected in official government documents as well as the gender which a person identifies with.”

The draft Health and Human Services rule also rolls back regulations established in 2016 that specifically barred discrimination on the “termination of pregnancy.”

Under the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act included a provision known as Section 1557 that outlined prohibitions for discrimination on race, color, origin, sex, age and disability.

It also defined the term “gender identity.”

Gender identity, according to the provision, is an “internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth.”

The definition has repeatedly tripped up lawmakers.

Last week the Equality Act, a bill that would extend civil rights protections for LGBT and women, flew through the Democrat-held House of Representatives, but not without opposition by Republicans who say “gender identity” is too amorphous a concept to legislate.

The ACLU said Friday that the Trump administration began putting its regulatory rollback strategy into place as far back as October 2018, pointing to a leaked Health and Human Services memo obtained by The New York Times that indicated the department planned on narrowing gender definitions as immutable and determined by a person’s genitals at birth.

According to a July 2018 report by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, not only do transgender people experience higher rates of poor health outcomes in general, they also experience higher rates of poor mental health.

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement Friday that the Health Department’s proposed rule will “put up more unnecessary barriers between transgender people in the U.S. and the health care and insurance coverage they need.”

“This is not about free health care or special treatment,” Keisling said. “It’s about the right of every American to be treated with dignity when they walk into an emergency room, meet a new doctor, or find the right insurance plan. If permitted, this rule will promote ignorance and hate that no American should have to face while seeking care, and we are ready to fight it with everything we’ve got.”

The rule must undergo a public-comment period for 60 days before it can take effect.

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