A federal judge in Texas has issued a court order barring enforcement of the federal government’s policy seeking to extend anti-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act to transgender health and abortion-related services.
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The decision sides with Texas, seven other states and three Christian-affiliated health care groups challenging a rule that defines sex bias to include "discrimination on the basis of gender identity and termination of pregnancy."
The injunction was approved Saturday, just one day before the new policy was to take effect. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor said the new regulations violate the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law governing rulemaking practices.
The judge also supported the plaintiffs’ claim that the new policy infringes on the rights of private health care providers under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Plaintiffs claim the Rule’s interpretation of sex discrimination pressures doctors to deliver healthcare in a manner that violates their religious freedom and thwarts their independent medical judgment and will require burdensome changes to their health insurance plans on January 1, 2017,” O'Connor wrote in his 46-page opinion.
The same judge issued a similar court order in August blocking a separate Obama administration policy that would have required public schools — over the objections of 13 states — to allow transgender students to use restrooms of their choice.
It was not immediately clear whether the Obama administration, which has less than 20 days left in office, would seek to appeal the latest injunction. However, White House spokesperson Katie Hill slammed the ruling and defended the policy.
"Today's decision is a setback, but hopefully a temporary one, since all Americans — regardless of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation — should have access to quality, affordable health care free from discrimination," she said.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was passed in 2010 with an anti-discrimination section aimed at preventing insurance companies from charging customers more or denying coverage based on age, race, national origin, disability or sex.
According to the court opinion, gender identity was defined under that rule as "an individual's internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual's sex assigned at birth."
The state of Texas has led a series of legal cases brought by Republican-controlled states challenging various social policies advanced by President Barack Obama, including his 2014 executive action to protect millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and give them work permits, which the Supreme Court blocked in June last year.