Law & the Courts

Federal Court Blocks Trump Admin. from Rolling Back Transgender Healthcare Protections

A transgender rights activist waves a transgender flag, N.Y., May 24, 2019. (Demetrius Freeman/Reuters)

A federal judge on Monday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a new rule that would have rolled back Obama-era sex discrimination protections for transgender people in health care.

The rule, finalized in mid-June, was set to go into effect on Tuesday. The United States District Court in Brooklyn issued an injunction temporarily blocking the regulation from being enforced while a lawsuit moves forward, in light of a June Supreme Court ruling that established that employers cannot discriminate against transgender people in the workplace.

While the administration’s rule was based on the idea that discrimination against transgender people was not discrimination because of sex, Judge Frederic Block said that idea is at odds with the high Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga. which said sex discrimination protections in the workplace include transgender people.

“When the Supreme Court announces a major decision, it seems a sensible thing to pause and reflect on the decision’s impact,” Judge Block wrote. “Since H.H.S. has been unwilling to take that path voluntarily, the court now imposes it.”

“H.H.S. took a position on that issue, as it was entitled to do,” he said. “But that position was effectively rejected by the Supreme Court.”

The ruling calls into question what it means to discriminate on the basis of sex. An earlier rule from the Obama administration would have required insurance companies to cover and health care providers to offer medical care for transgender patients. While several district courts upheld the policy, a Fort Worth judge said the rule was legally invalid and issued a nationwide injunction to block its enforcement. 

The Trump administration cited the Texas ruling in its attempt to change the Affordable Care Act rule.

The director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, Roger Severino, said in June that anti-discrimination protections should apply only to “male or female as determined by biology” in keeping with the lawmakers’ original intent when they passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, legal experts had predicted that the courts’ approach to health care jurisprudence would likely be affected by the Bostock ruling because the language in the Affordable Care Act was similar to the employment discrimination statute in the Bostock case, the New York Times reported. 

The injunction is not the final say in the case: The judge will read briefs and hear arguments from both sides before issuing a final opinion and any decision could still be subject to appeal. 

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