Judge blocks Trump's attempt to roll back health care protections for transgender people

18 August 2020, 00:42

A judge has blocked Donald Trump's administration from enforcing a rollback in transgender healthcare rights
A judge has blocked Donald Trump's administration from enforcing a rollback in transgender healthcare rights. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A federal judge has blocked Donald Trump's administration from enforcing a new piece of legislation aimed at rolling back health care protections for transgender people.

The Trump administration tried roll back part of the Health Care Rights Law, a part of the Affordable Care Act which protects people from the trans community from being denied health care.

By claiming "religious freedom", the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempted to revise a rule back to “the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology”.

The announcement was made on the anniversary of the Pulse Massacre, in which 49 people were shot and killed in a gay club in Florida.

But at the eleventh hour, just before the ruling was going to take effect on Tuesday, US District Court Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn granted a preliminary injunction barring the administration from enforcing the regulation until the case can be heard in court and decided.

Donald Trump called the decision "horrible and politically charged"
Donald Trump called the decision "horrible and politically charged". Picture: PA

Judge Block indicated he thought the Trump administration's so-called transgender rule is invalid in light of the Supreme Court ruling in June on a case involving similar issues in the context of job discrimination.

"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 in his order, suggesting the agency may want to reconsider. "

Since HHS has been unwilling to take that path voluntarily, the court now imposes it."

The HHS health care rule was seen as a signal to President Donald Trump's social and religious conservative supporters that the administration remained squarely behind them after the shock of the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Mr Trump.

"An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex," Mr Gorsuch wrote.

"Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what (civil rights law) forbids."

In a tweet, Mr Trump called that "horrible & politically charged" and compared it to a shotgun blast in the faces of conservative Republicans.

The HHS rule sought to overturn Obama-era sex discrimination protections for transgender people in health care. Similar to the underlying issues in the job discrimination case before the Supreme Court, the health care rule rests on the idea that sex is determined by biology.

The Obama-era version relied on a broader understanding shaped by a person's inner sense of being male, female, neither or a combination.

The lawsuit against the Trump administration rule was brought by an advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, on behalf of two transgender women. One of the plaintiffs is an army veteran and the other a writer and activist.

Judge Block dismissed as "disingenuous" arguments from HHS that its rule was legally valid, and wrote that the agency acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in enacting it.

HHS said it was disappointed by the judge's decision.

He was nominated to the federal bench by former president Bill Clinton.