Federal Judge Chooses Religious Freedom Over Trans Health Care Rights

Obama's mandate would have provided more health care options to the trans community

On New Year's Eve, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Con­nor ordered a nationwide halt to the Obama administration's federal mandate seeking to secure national health care for the transgender community as well as provide abortion-related health care services. The preliminary injunction came hours before the rule was set to take effect on Jan. 1. O'Connor sided with the plaintiffs – led by Texas and backed by seven other states, as well as Catholic hospital network Franciscan Health (formerly known as Franciscan Alliance, as referenced in the lawsuit) – who fear the imposed rule will infringe on medical providers' religious beliefs as protected by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), by forcing them to "perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions, regardless of their contrary religious beliefs or medical judgment," states the injunction. Trans rights activists say the impending law would stop health care providers from gender identity discrimination.

O'Connor ruled that the new regulation "violates the Administrative Procedure Act by contradicting existing law and exceeding statutory authority," and "likely violates" the RFRA of private medical providers and insurance companies. He went on to note that for the plaintiffs involved, assisting with gender transitions and abortions would be "impermissible material cooperation with evil." Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded O'Connor's ruling, while the White House defended its policy – saying it hopes this is a "temporary" setback. Of course, with only two weeks left in office, it's unclear how, or if, the Obama administration can reverse O'Connor's decision. Left unaltered, providers will be allowed to withhold insurance and health care on the basis of a patient's gender identity.

This is the second time O'Connor has blocked the administration from protecting trans rights. In August, he effectively thwarted enforcement of guidelines instructing schools to treat a student's gender identity as their sex to better aid trans youth.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Sarah Marloff
City Acknowledges Its Debt to Sexual Assault Survivors
City Acknowledges Its Debt to Sexual Assault Survivors
Seen and heard

Feb. 4, 2022

Travis County Settles With Sexual Assault Survivors
Travis County Settles With Sexual Assault Survivors
$580,000 settlement reached in three-year legal battle over handling of sexual assault cases

June 25, 2021


Trans Health Care, Reed O'Connor, Ken Paxton, Religious Freedom Restoration Act

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle