Access to healthcare for women and transgender folks continues to come under fire in the United States in the name of religious freedom.
Last Saturday, Texas district court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that a doctor can refuse care to trans patients and women who have had abortions in the past. Judge O’Connor ruled that “religious freedom,” i.e. believing that abortion and “gender dysphoria” are morally wrong, could override gender discrimination laws that would require doctors to provide care in these cases.
You read that right—the issue is not whether doctors have to provide abortions or transition care, but whether they even have to provide medical services to women and trans folks who have ever had them before. This ruling is an outrageous and blatant assault on women’s and trans folks’ rights to medical care.
Judge O’Connor ruled that gender discrimination laws would require doctors to refuse treatment to trans patients and women who have had abortions on a case by case basis, imposing an undue burden on the medical community. Because why should doctors have to take actual time out of their schedules to discriminate?
Judge O’Connor’s ruling is based on the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, which determined that family owned corporations do not have to provide health insurance coverage for birth control if it goes against their religious beliefs. After the Hobby Lobby decisions, sixteen states adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (surprise, this law already existed in Texas), which protects religious groups against laws that could infringe upon their free exercise of religion. The Hobby Lobby ruling enabled this law to be extended to businesses.
According to Slate, it is due to the judges’ frighteningly narrow interpretation of sex discrimination that he ruled in this manner. He does not consider barring access to care or services that are obtained by women or trans people as sex discrimination—as the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Health and Human Services have determined. He only considers discrimination on the basis of sex itself as true discrimination.
The judge suggested that, somehow, refusal in these cases would not limit access to care for women and trans folks because the government can take on the burden to help women and trans patients find adequate care. Even so, he goes on to note that most major government entities, including the military and Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover medical services related to transitioning. He then concludes that finding care for trans people is not a compelling government interest in the first place.
In reality, this judge blatantly disregards discrimination laws against women and trans people in order to protect culture-war obsessed conservatives in Texas who could care less about what happens to women and trans people. This is a disturbing beginning to 2017.
In light of this ruling as well as Speaker Ryan’s decision to cancel federal funding to Planned Parenthood yesterday, it seems as if we are in for a fight for our rights to bodily autonomy and healthcare.
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