This Saturday, a U.S. federal judge ruled that doctors can refuse to treat transgender women and women who’ve had abortions if they feel it infringes upon their “religious freedom.”
According to Judge Reed O’Connor‘s ruling, laws put in place that forbid gender-based discrimination would require doctors “to remove the categorical exclusion of transitions and abortions (a condition they assert is a reflection of their religious beliefs and an exercise of their religion) and conduct an individualized assessment of every request for those procedures.”
O’Connor claimed the laws impose a “burden” on doctors who want to exercise their religious freedom, citing the Hobby Lobby ruling from 2014 which allowed family-owned corporations to refuse insurance coverage for birth control on the basis of religious beliefs.
“The ruling marks an extreme extension of the dubious logic behind the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision—and indicates that conservative courts believe the purported right of health care professionals to discriminate against patients trumps patients’ right to sound medical treatment,” Slate‘s Mark Joseph Stern writes.
Stern adds that while current laws include “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy” under the umbrella of sex discrimination, “O’Connor recognizes only one kind of sex discrimination: hostility against a man or woman for being a man or a woman.”
According to Stern, the most disturbing aspect of O’Connor’s ruling isn’t his usual “judicial chicanery regarding facts and precedent,” but his expansion of the Hobby Lobby precedent. Christian medical groups and insurance companies behind the lawsuit argue that treating transgender patients and women who’ve had abortions amounts to “material cooperation with evil,” a notion that O’Connor agrees with.
According to him, the law should favor this belief system over people’s need for medical care.
“The ramifications of this reasoning are chilling, especially for women and LGBTQ people,” Stern wrote. “Does RFRA bar the government from protecting gay people against medical discrimination? What about women who don’t wish to become pregnant?”
Indeed, by the terms of [O’Connor’s] ruling, the government can’t require doctors and insurance companies to treat or cover anything they believe to be “evil.” Instead, the government must continually step in to insure unpopular patients and help them find a doctor who will deign to treat them. This system would completely upend medical practice in the United States, legalizing prejudice-based refusal of service and placing the burden on patients to find a doctor and insurance company who will provide the treatment they need. There is no clear limit to the damage that O’Connor’s ruling could do. It appears that in our post–Hobby Lobby world, patients who draw ire from conservative Christians must get used to being deprived of insurance and denied medical treatment solely on account of their identities.
In other words, your doctor can refuse to see you if he/she decides you’re evil.