By Devin Watkins
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized a new rule on Friday that restricts the use of the term “sex discrimination”.
Legislation in the Affordable Care Act forbids federally-funded healthcare programs from discrimination on the basis of sex (Section 1557).
In May 2016, however, guidelines expanded the definition of “sex” to include “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy”.
This meant that doctors who declined to perform sex-change operations – or abortions – could face prosecution for sex discrimination.
The HHS ruling on Friday said the 2016 regulation had inappropriately expanded the definition of sex discrimination and “exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress.”
“HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning 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 said.
In response, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) applauded HHS for promulgating the regulation.
They said it restores “the long-standing position of the federal government that discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ means just that and does not refer to ‘termination of pregnancy’ nor ‘gender identity.’ ”
The Bishops added that the guidelines correspond to the original intent of the Affordable Care Act, which is “to ensure no one is discriminated against in health care because of their sex.”
Protecting health care providers
By restricting the definition of “sex discrimination”, the regulations will “help restore the rights of health care providers – as well as insurers and employers – who decline to perform or cover abortions or ‘gender transition’ procedures due to ethical or professional objections.”
US Bishops reiterated that Catholic healthcare providers “serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background.”
However, they added, “there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures.”
The joint statement was signed by the chairmen of three USCCB committees.
These include Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop David Konderla of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.