The Trump administration announced the termination of a regulation that protects transgender patients against discrimination. Health care advocates and civil rights associations condemn this ruling.

The Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era regulation that protects transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals, and health insurance companies. This announcement came on Friday, the four-year anniversary of the deadly Pulse nightclub shooting and in the midst of Pride Month.

The rule will narrow the legal definition of sex discrimination in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to exclude protection for transgender people and makes it possible for health care providers to refuse treatment of patients who have undergone abortions. 

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits “discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.” In 2016, the Obama administration enacted a rule that interpreted the ban on sex discrimination to also include discrimination based on gender identity and termination of pregnancy.

But a statement released on Friday by the US Department of Health and Human Services declared the department “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.”

The Trump administration ruling comes from a proposal made last year and is part of a broader effort to curtail transgender rights, from housing and education, to military service and now, health care. 

Health Care Advocates Push Back

The ruling received widespread condemnation from health care advocates representing hospitals, medical groups, insurers, and civil rights associations. Many have denounced not just the removal of protections for transgender people, but also the timing of the ruling during a global pandemic, and on the anniversary of the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, that killed 49 people and injured 50.

“The Trump administration has once again sacrificed the health and safety of vulnerable Americans,” said Ricardo Lara, California’s insurance commissioner, in a statement on Friday evening.

Lara wrote a letter signed by 18 state insurance commissioners calling for the rejection of the Trump administration proposal. “Eliminating health protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people is a license to deny lifesaving care,” Lara said.

Several national associations have voiced their opposition to the ruling, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the American Medical Student Association. The Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project have each announced their intentions to sue the government to reverse the policy.

“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,” Alphonso David, president of The Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

Jason Starr, litigation director for The Human Rights Campaign, said that this ruling would discourage those seeking health care from doing so, and emphasized that transgender women of color were especially anxious. 

The National Center for Transgender Equality called the ruling “heartless,” but state on their website’s Frequently Asked Questions page that even though it will be harder for transgender patients to enforce their rights, health care discrimination will still be illegal.

In response to the question “Am I still protected from health care discrimination?” the page writes, “No matter what the Trump Administration says or does, the Health Care Rights Law is the law of the land, and most courts have said it protects transgender people. Only Congress has the power to change the law by repealing the ACA.”

Politicians Condemn Ruling

Democrats were quick to denounce the ruling while a few Republicans publicly objected. 

Joe Biden, a presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, released a statement calling the ruling “unconscionable” and “despicable.”

“In the midst of a pandemic, Donald Trump is more consumed with destroying the legacy of the Obama-Biden Administration than protecting the health care of millions of Americans,” the statement reads.

Sen. Susan Maine of Maine, a Republican, openly criticized the Trump administration’s decision. “The Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate protections for transgender patients is simply wrong,” she tweeted on Saturday. “I’ll work to overturn this discriminatory policy.”

Candy Chan

Candy Chan is studying History with a focus on War and Revolution at Barnard College. She is currently a staff writer at the Columbia Daily Spectator, covering issues pertaining to Columbia's...