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Judge Sides Against Obamacare’s Transgender, Reproductive Health-Care Protections

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The order was issued by the same judge who halted enforcement of the Obama administration’s guidance instructing schools that receive federal funding to allow transgender students access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.

A federal judge in Texas issued an order Saturday halting enforcement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that protects transgender patients from health-care discrimination and ensures entities receiving federal dollars provide comprehensive reproductive health-care services, including abortion care.

The order was issued in a lawsuit brought by Texas, Kansas, and a handful of other states along with several religiously affiliated health-care providers challenging Section 1557 of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. That provision prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all health-care programs and activities, and applies to any entity receiving federal funds. The provision protects against entities refusing to provide health care or health-care coverage based on a person’s sex, including discrimination based on pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping.

The provision guarantees patients access to reproductive services like abortion care and sterilization at any health-care facility, including for religious and religiously affiliated providers.

Section 1557 undermines states’ ability to regulate health care and ensure appropriate medical standards while forcing some providers to violate their religious beliefs by treating transgender patients and providing reproductive health care, according to those challenging the non-discrimination provision.

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The injunction, effective nationwide, was issued by District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, who halted enforcement of the Obama administration’s guidance instructing schools that receive federal funding to allow transgender students access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.

According to Judge O’Connor, there was a “substantial likelihood” that the states and nonprofits would succeed in their claim that Section 1557 violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), questioning whether the rule advanced a compelling government interest or whether the Obama administration could show it was the least restrictive means in advancing that interest.

The Obama administration can appeal the order before president-elect Trump takes office this month.

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