The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday it was removing language from the Affordable Care Act that had been inserted by the Obama administration to strengthen LGBTQ+ protections.
"Today's rule attempts to gut the robust nondiscrimination protections under the Health Care Rights Law, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)," Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said in a written statement on Friday. "This move by the administration to undermine anti-discrimination protections in health care for LGBTQ people, women, people with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, and others, including those who face multiple forms of discrimination, is unconscionable at any time."
Section 1557 of the ACA makes it illegal to discriminate due to "race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities." The Obama administration had sought to strengthen those protections with a refined definition of sex as "one's internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female." The courts ultimately agreed with the Trump administration's interpretation of the law the omits the refined definition, and Friday's move finalizes that rule. When presidential administrations make rules affecting enforcement of laws, the proposed rule goes through a period of public comment before it is finalized, but the rulemaking process does not require congressional action.
"HHS respects the dignity of every human being, and as we have shown in our response to the pandemic, we vigorously protect and enforce the civil rights of all to the fullest extent permitted by our laws as passed by Congress," Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement announcing the decision. "We are unwavering in our commitment to enforcing civil rights in healthcare."
Severino has a long history of bigotry against LGBTQ+ people, along with a record of opposition to women's rights. Prior to joining the Trump administration, the devout Catholic and avowed social conservative worked as the Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation where he fought against marriage equality, transgender protections, and reproductive rights.
This is not the first time the HHS under Trump has sought to roll back LGBTQ+ protections enacted by the Obama administration. Last November they proposed rule changes that experts fear could permit government-funded faith-based organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and families looking to adopt.