The U.S. Catholic Bishops have applauded the Trump administration’s rescinding of a federal healthcare provision aimed at protecting transgender patients from discrimination.
According to The New York Times, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized an administrative rule that rescinds the federal government’s recognition of gender identity as a protected class in healthcare non-discrimination policy. The rule regarding Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act was finalized during Pride month, as well as on the fourth anniversary of the 2016 Orlando, Florida, Pulse shooting, where 49 LGBTQ people were murdered by a gunman at an LGBTQ nightclub.
On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), several bishops who chair committees issued a joint statement praising the Trump administration’s new rule:
“We thank the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for promulgating regulations restoring the long-standing position of the federal government that discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ means just that and does not refer to ‘termination of pregnancy’ nor ‘gender identity.’ These modifications are consistent with the legislative intent of the Affordable Care Act – to ensure no one is discriminated against in health care because of their sex. These regulations will help restore the rights of health care providers – as well as insurers and employers – who decline to perform or cover abortions or ‘gender transition’ procedures due to ethical or professional objections. Catholic health care providers serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background. However, there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures. We greatly appreciate today’s important action.”
The bishop signatories are Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop David A. Konderla, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS and a Catholic, stated that the purpose of the rule’s retraction was to “‘updat[e] our books to reflect the legal reality that sex discrimination language does not explicitly refer to the legal status of transgender people,” as reported in an interview with The New York Times.
In 2016, the Obama administration successfully implemented a regulation to interpret the sex discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act to include protections on the basis of gender identity, thereby ensuring transgender patients would not be denied services, including for gender-affirming care The new rule does not take effect immediately because of pending litigation against the Obama regulation, and the Trump’s administration’s refusal to enforce the provision, citing a 2016 Texas federal case.
The outcry from the LGBTQ community against this transgender-negative rule has been palpable. Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, criticized the final rule:
“It’s really, really horrendous to not only gut nondiscrimination protections, but to gut nondiscrimination protections in the middle of a pandemic…This rule opens a door for a medical provider to turn someone away for a Covid-19 test just because they happen to be transgender.”
More ambivalent about the policy than either the bishops or LGBTQ advocates was a response from the Catholic Health Association’s President and CEO, Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, who said in a statement:
“While we welcome the efforts to reaffirm the unique mission of faith-based health care providers, refusing to provide medical assistance or health care services merely because of discomfort with or animus against an individual on the basis of how that person understands or expresses gender or sexuality is unacceptable.”
In a follow up comment to America, an official with the association commented:
“C.H.A. asked for conscience protections for certain services. But we do not want members of the L.G.B.T. community to be discriminated against or to be afraid to get health care because of fear that they might be discriminated against.”
America reported on the Catholic Health Association’s mixed record when it comes to LGBTQ healthcare, as it seeks both a religious exemption that would enable Catholic providers to deny care to certain patients but also wants to ensure LGBTQ people receive adequate healthcare. In a previous 2019 letter regarding Section 1557, the association outlined its dual positions:
“Our comments in November 2015 also addressed the proposal to include gender identity as a basis for wrongful discrimination ‘on the basis of sex.’ We expressed our concern that this would mandate the provision of certain services directly related to gender transition, which could present a potential conflict for some faith-based health care providers and requested that HHS include in the final rule a religious exemption from the proposed requirements. . .
“We are deeply troubled that the overall effect of all of the proposed regulatory amendments could discourage or prevent individuals from seeking medical care out of fear that they will be mistreated or turned away because of their gender identity or sexual preference.”
Bondings 2.0 has previously reported on the USCCB’s ongoing support for the Trump administration’s targeted efforts to end federal protections for the LGBTQ community in healthcare, in adoption and foster care services, and elsewhere.
The USCCB’s enthusiastic praise of this mission, and the Catholic Health Association’s ambiguity on clearly endorsing LGBTQ people’s right to healthcare, erodes the church’s moral leadership. The USCCB has decided once again to not only turn away from some of society’s most vulnerable communities, but to cause further psychological and spiritual harm by denying the lived experience transgender persons and the necessity of non-discrimination protections for them.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, June 20, 2020