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Since President Donald Trump took office, the federal government has made many questionable changes regarding its informational websites. In December 2017, words like “transgender,” “fetus,” and “diversity” were banned from CDC reports. And in the latest affront to government transparency, the Trump administration has reportedly deleted information pertaining to sex discrimination from the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
According to a report from the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project (WIP) published on July 17th, the Department of Health and Human Services altered a section of the Affordable Care Act between March and August 2017, removing information about gender discrimination. The report states that the term “sex stereotyping” was deleted from multiple webpages, as well as information about discrimination due to gender identity or past abortions. Guidelines for treating transgender patients were also removed.
As the National Women’s Law Center notes, the section in question, known as Section 1557 (aka the Health Care Rights Law), was created to prevent health care providers from discriminating against patients for gender-based reasons. For example, under this law, it is illegal to deny someone treatment because they are transgender, have had an abortion, or are in a same-sex relationship.
Jocelyn Samuels, a Department of Health and Human Services director under President Barack Obama, told the WIP that the removal of these terms has “a damaging impact, because the existence of this language […] was intended to inform those subject to discrimination that they continue to have rights.”
Section 1557 has been challenged before. According to Pacific Standard, a group of religiously affiliated health-care providers filed a lawsuit in 2016 claiming that the law violated their religious liberties by forcing them to treat trans patients and support abortions. (The case has yet to be decided).
“While HHS can no longer enforce prohibitions on gender identity and termination of pregnancy, individuals can still file lawsuits themselves,” Bergman said. “And without the information that simply defines sex discrimination, they are no longer seeing that information and knowing what their own legal rights are.”
As Bergman points out, by making this information more difficult to find, the HHS could prevent individuals’ from knowing they even have the right to legal protection. The removal of these terms could also signal a more sinister attempt to rewrite this portion of the law and end protection against sex-based discrimination.
This isn’t a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of making sure everyone has equal access to medical care. We need our government to prevent discrimination, not enable it.