“Religious freedom” is officially worth more than human lives
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On Saturday, while most of us were setting our sights on the future, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor did his best to set the clock back at least sixty years. In a verdict that prioritizes one’s right to exercise religious beliefs over another’s right to receive medical treatment, Judge O’Connor ruled that doctors can refuse to treat transgender patients and women who’ve had abortions—all in the name of “religious freedom.”
The Affordable Care Act, which affects essentially every health care provider in the country, bans health care professionals from denying treatment based on sex. The Department of Health and Human Services aimed to clarify and expand this ambiguous clause by enacting a regulation that forbid doctors from discriminating on the basis of “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy” as well. By blocking this regulation through the lens of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Judge O’Connor has allowed health care professionals and insurance companies nationwide to discriminate as they see fit.
As Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern notes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as one of the plaintiffs, Texas (along with four other states and a few Christian organizations) brought the case in front of Judge O’Connor specifically because of his reputation for infringing on transgender rights. You may even remember him as the judge who shamelessly prevented legislation that would have made it safer for transgender students to use the bathroom of their choosing.
As several outlets have pointed out, this decision expands the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, which allows businesses to enforce religious beliefs on employees by denying health care coverage for birth control. For those who refuse to believe the president-elect will dismantle the ACA once he takes office and leave 20 million patients medically stranded in the process, it’s time to start recognizing there will be vast consequences to the nonsensical decisions enforced by a radicalized GOP.
Going by Judge O’Connor’s logic, no room can exist for disagreement, even if that means putting lives directly at risk. We’re also left with the depressing irony that conservatives are willing to risk the safety of fellow Americans for the sake of a religious person’s conscience. Even worse, it seems anti-abortion adherents would rather let an adult human being die than face uncomfortable truths. Make no mistake—this ruling does not merely privilege one set of rights over another, it reinforces a hierarchy that puts white, Christian, heteronormative lives above all others while actively disenfranchising those who fall outside of that category. That, in no uncertain terms, is unconscionable.