WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four committee chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops May 24 praised proposed regulations to restore “the long-standing position of the federal government that discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ does not refer to ‘termination of pregnancy’ nor ‘gender identity.'”

Earlier in the day the Department of Health and Human Services released its proposal to overturn the Obama administration’s HHS health care discrimination rule that took effect in January 2016 to implement a civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act known as Section 1557.

Section 1557 provides that individuals cannot be subject to discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. Current HHS regulations governing implementation of this section have no exemption for religious organizations.

As it stands, Catholic hospitals and health care providers are required to perform or provide gender transition services, hormonal treatments and counseling as well as a host of surgeries that would remove or transform the sexual organs of men or women transitioning to the other gender. It also requires group health plans to cover these procedures and services.

The current regulations also mandate abortions be performed and affect health insurers, hospitals and health plans administered by or receiving federal funds from HHS.

The new modifications proposed by HHS under the Trump administration “follow the legislative intent of the Affordable Care Act to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in health care,” the bishops said.

“(They) would 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,” the bishops said. “Catholic health care providers serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background. However, there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures. We are grateful for today’s important step.”

The four chairmen who signed the statement were: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, Committee for Religious Liberty.

On Nov. 6, 2015, the USCCB joined with nine other faith-based organizations in stating their objections to what were then the proposed regulations to implement Section 1557 of the ACA. They filed a joint letter addressed to the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

During the open comment period, “We agree that the prevention of sex discrimination in health programs and activities is a laudable statutory goal,” the groups’ letter said. “Everyone should have access to health care and health coverage.”

However, they said, the final regulations needed “to make clear that they do not demand involvement in abortion, force religious institutions to cover objectionable services, or employ definitions of sex discrimination and other terms that exceed federal law.”

Their comments called for an exemption that would, at minimum, “state that the prohibition on sex discrimination shall not apply to a religious organization if such application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

Besides the USCCB, the groups signing on to the 2015 letter were the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Christian Medical Association, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, Christian Legal Society, World Vision (U.S.), Liberty Institute and Family Research Council.


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