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On Friday, the Trump administration released a statement announcing their intention to eliminate the Obama-era healthcare protections that prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies.
The rule, proposed in May last year, was passed on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed at an LGBTQ bar in Orlando in June 2016. The incident also occurred during Pride month – an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community.
In the 2010 Affordable Care Act passed by the Obama administration, Section 1557 of the act prohibited “discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities."
In 2016, the Obama administration modified federal health care guidelines to extend protections to transgender individuals by interpreting the ban on sex-based discrimination to include gender identity, which was defined as “one’s internal sense of gender which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female."
The rule now seeks to impose a clarification on the legal terminology, with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcing that it was eliminating “certain provisions of the 2016 rule that exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress in Section 1557.”
The announcement further stated that the final rule will “enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology."
On Friday, Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the HHS which is responsible for the rule said that the rule represented the federal government’s decision to update its books “to reflect the legal reality” that healthcare protections for transgender individuals are not explicitly stated in the 2010 law.
“It’s not the role of the federal bureaucrat to impose their own meanings on the words that their representatives have enshrined into law,” he added.
In denouncement of the move, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) a nonprofit legal and advocacy organization tweeted on Friday that the rule will “embolden health care discrimination against transgender people, those seeking reproductive health care, and many other individuals who need health care — all while a global pandemic is occurring.”
“1 in 3 transgender individuals in the US report experiencing discrimination in health care,” ACLU further wrote.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality also wrote, “Encouraging discrimination in health care is always wrong, and doing it in the midst of a pandemic is downright cruel. This rule sends a message that medical providers can turn people away from a COVID-19 test or treatment simply because of who they are #ProtectTransHealth.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also tweeted in criticism of the decision saying, “On the fourth anniversary of Pulse. In the middle of Pride month. During a global pandemic. Donald Trump’s cruelty knows no bounds. We have to defeat him this November.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a prominent LGBTQ advocacy group announced its plans to sue the Trump administration for eroding the health care rights of the transgender community.
“We cannot and will not allow Donald Trump to continue attacking us. Today, the Human Rights Campaign is announcing plans to sue the Trump administration for exceeding their legal authority and attempting to remove basic health care protections from vulnerable communities including LGBTQ people," the group’s president Alphonso David said in a statement released on Friday.
“We will see them in court, and continue to challenge all of our elected officials to rise up against this blatant attempt to erode critical protections people need and sanction discrimination.”
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