The Trump administration is working to further erode protections for women and the LGBTQ community — with a particular impact on transgender Americans — as it prepares to roll out a new rule that places religious and moral convictions ahead of access to health care.
According to Rewire.News, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it is “close to finalizing a conscience protection rule that would allow people to discriminate in health-care settings under cover of law.”
Though the final rule, currently at the Office of Management and Budget, has not been made public, the draft rule indicates that “health-care providers would be able to refuse to provide treatment, referrals, or assistance with procedures if these activities would violate their stated religious or moral convictions.”
The deliberately vague language could apply to everyone from receptionists refusing to book appointments to scrub nurses refusing to assist with emergency surgery.
This could be devastating for many marginalized people in the country seeking health care. But it could be especially dangerous for LGBTQ people, who have fought hard to establish legal protections that would guard them against exactly these kinds of denials. When your very body and existence are considered objectionable, seeking health care at the best of times can be dangerous.
The new rule comes on top of two rules previously finalized by HHS that allow discrimination based on religious and moral conviction for businesses and organizations such as churches.
In those cases, entities may “refuse to pay for insurance coverage that includes birth control or abortion services” if it goes against their beliefs.
The agency also recently proposed another rule that would create a significant administrative burden for insurance companies that include abortion in their policies, effectively incentivizing them to drop this coverage.
Now, this latest regulation would “ensure that persons or entities are not subjected to certain practices or policies that violate conscience, coerce, or discriminate.” These updates to existing precedent spread across 25 laws and regulations would substantially extend the reach of “conscience protections.” A doctor might, for example, refuse to give a pregnant patient information about an obstetrician if they suspect the patient might request an “objectionable” treatment like abortion from that obstetrician.
The “conscience protections” outlined in the draft rule could include things like a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription for hormones or a surgeon declining to perform a transition-related procedure. But they could technically apply even more widely, and the lines may only become clear in court. As long as a provider could come up with a “moral” reason to decline care, it might be hard for someone to push back, whether it’s a tooth cleaning or breast cancer treatment. A pediatrician could refuse to care for the child of lesbian parents. The rule as drafted did not contain guidance about emergency situations, raising concerns that a lethal refusal of care—such as an ambulance crew leaving a trans woman to die—could be justified.