A new proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services has civil rights groups worried that transgender patients may be denied care.
The change, proposed Friday, would affect the definition of gender. HHS director of the Office for Civil Rights Roger Severino said the shift will bring the regulations in line with what lawmakers originally intended, before the definition of gender was broadened under the Obama administration.
“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.
The National Center for Transgender Equality vowed to fight the proposed regulation. “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,” said Mara Keisling, NCTE executive director.
Diana Flynn, the litigation director for Lambda Legal, a group supporting LGBTQ rights, said “HHS should be in the business of ensuring that people get the health care they need, not providing excuses for providers and insurers to turn people away.”
The proposal is part of a broader effort by religious conservatives in the Trump administration to define gender restrictively. The result has been a weakening of protections for transgender people.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday proposed a new rule that would allow federally funded shelters to turn away transgender people for religious reasons or force them to use bathrooms and sleeping areas that do not conform to their gender identity. A March 12 memo from the Defense Department outlined a new policy that bans individuals with a gender dysphoria diagnosis who are taking hormones or who have transitioned to another gender to enlist. In addition, troops already in the military would have to serve according to their sex assigned at birth.
Severino said in a call with reporters that the office will continue to “vigorously enforce” civil rights protections for federally protected classes based on race, color, national origin, disability and sex.
He said that under the Obama administration, HHS had redefined nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex to include one’s internal sense of being “male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female,” as well to cover termination of pregnancy.
Religious groups said the provision violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and have challenged the definition in federal court in Texas. The court has issued an injunction on enforcement of the rule, and in a filing in April, HHS attorneys agreed that the Obama-era rule is illegal and hinted that this new rule was in the works.
We believe “discrimination on the basis of sex does not include gender identity or termination of pregnancy,” Severino said Friday.
Severino added that the change is part of a pledge by the Trump administration to remove “unnecessary regulatory burdens” and would save approximately $3.6 billion in regulatory costs over five years. Under the federal rulemaking process, the public will have 60 days to submit comments. HHS would then consider the feedback and then move forward with finalizing the rule.