Federal Judge Says Key Protections Against Discrimination in the ACA Will Violate RFRA

Image by MirkoTabasevic/Getty Images

Image by MirkoTabasevic/Getty Images

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination in health programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. It’s the first time that federal law has barred sex discrimination in healthcare.

A lawsuit filed in August 2016 by the states of Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky, and Kansas and a couple of religiously affiliated medical organizations challenged the law’s ban on sex discrimination, which includes barring unequal treatment based on gender identity or terminating a pregnancy. One of their claims: that the nondiscrimination protections violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

On New Year’s Eve, a federal judge sided with states and stopped the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from implementing the protections barring sex discrimination in the provision of healthcare services. The judge decided that the law’s protections likely violate RFRA because he said it would force a religiously affiliated hospital system, for instance, to provide insurance coverage and healthcare services that are contrary to their religious beliefs. 

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It guarantees us the freedom to believe—or not—as we see fit and to act on our beliefs unless doing so harms others. This is what RFRA protects. Allowing institutions to ignore a bar on discrimination and deny healthcare and insurance coverage based on religion, however, is discrimination, plain and simple. As a result, individuals who are transgender and who’ve had abortions are at risk. This ruling flies in the face of real religious freedom and is a clear misuse of RFRA.  

Americans United is dedicated to fighting for real religious freedom and against those who would use religion as an excuse to harm others. Have you been denied healthcare services because of someone else’s religious belief? We may be able to help. Contact us at legal@protectthyneighbor.org.