Federal Judge Rules It’s Okay For Doctors, Hospitals, To Turn Away Transgender Patients

A lawsuit claims Obamacare "pressures doctors to deliver healthcare in a manner that violates their religious freedom."

A federal judge has issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for transgender health care, one day before they were supposed to go into effect.

A lawsuit brought by Texas, several other states, and a collection of religious medical groups, challenges the ACA’s provision banning discrimination in coverage or care based on gender identity.

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The Department of Health and Human Services has ruled Section 1557 of the ACA “includes gender identity discrimination within the definition of sex discrimination” and provides for “specific coverage protections for transgender individuals.” (It’s still not clear, though, if Section 1557 protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation.)

But groups like the Christian Medical and Dental Associations say Section 1557 “pressures doctors to deliver healthcare in a manner that violates their religious freedom and thwarts their independent medical judgment.”

The suit claims that the directive violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“[It] would force many doctors, hospitals and other health care providers in Texas to participate in sex-reassignment surgeries and treatments,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The lawsuit also challenges the ACA’s provisions for abortion care.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor agreed to issue an injunction on December 31, finding the plaintiffs had standing to bring their suit, and a “substantial likelihood” they’d succeed in their case.

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The guidelines were scheduled go into effect on January 1.

Calling Saturday’s ruling a “setback,” a spokesperson for President Obama told Buzzfeed, “all Americans—regardless of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation—should have access to quality, affordable health care free from discrimination.”

With less than three weeks left to his term, it’s not clear if the president will appeal the injunction or ask Judge O’Connor to lift it.

doctor talking to her male patient at office

Earlier this year, O’Connor also issued an injunction halting enforcement of the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students in schools.

The Affordable Care Act still offers protection from discrimination based on race, national origin, age and disability. But using religious belief as a barometer, health care provides could refuse to perform transfusions, organ transplants or any number of life-saving techniques that run counter to certain faiths.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.