“Religious Objection” Rule

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“Religious Objection” Rule

In a move that many health care providers and LGBTQ activists have condemned as an assault on LGBTQ access to health care, on May 2, 2019 the Trump Administration finalized a “religious objection” health care regulation that will purportedly “protect” the “statutory conscience rights” of health care providers. The rule grants federal nondiscrimination protection to health care providers who deny services to people who violate the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

In other words, physicians, EMTs, emergency room personnel, and other medical care providers may refuse to treat anyone whom they perceive to be LGBTQ—and enjoy federal protection from lawsuits regarding their refusal to provide care.

The administration argues that the rule is necessary because there is “an environment of discrimination toward, and attempted coercion of, those who object to certain health care procedures based on religious beliefs or moral convictions,” and because the number of complaints related to such religious discrimination that have been filed with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has increased since November 2016.

Although the language in the rule purports to apply primarily to procedures such as abortion, assisted suicide, and sterilization, the rule is modelled on religious refusal laws in twelve states that have been used to deny services, including health care, to LGBTQ people. Under the rule, medical providers could refuse to serve LGBT people or their children based on the belief that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry or raise children, that people should never have sex outside of heterosexual marriage, or that gender identity should reflect the assigned sex at birth.

“This latest attack on the right of everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, to access health care is extremely alarming and disconcerting. This rule takes the concept of religious freedom and turns it on its head. True religious freedom protects an individual’s right to worship—or not—and harms no one. But this rule is designed so that government employees and healthcare providers can deny service or treatment to LGBT people by claiming that providing such service or treatment would violate their religious beliefs or sincerely held principles,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health, in a press release.

Cahill continued, “This rule is exceptionally broad, and could be interpreted to allow providers to deny general health care services to LGBT people, as well as specific services such as screenings for sexually-transmitted infections to a gay or bisexual man, fertility treatment to a lesbian couple, or gender affirmation treatment to a transgender individual. It is important to view this latest move in the context of a series of attacks on the rights of LGBT patients that have taken place over the last two and a half years,” said Cahill. “Research shows that anti-LGBT discrimination in health care correlates with poorer health outcomes and constitutes a barrier to LGBT people’s ability to access health care.”

—Reporting by Hank Trout


Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.