New York Attorney General Letitia James today sent two multistate comment letters to the Trump Administration, opposing federal proposals that roll back critical anti-discrimination protections for patients and students. Both proposals stem from President Trump’s Executive Order that allows faith-based organizations to deny services to various groups. In the first proposal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would eliminate transparency requirements for faith-based providers that help patients to understand their rights and access referrals to care from alternative providers. In the second, the U.S. Department of Education is vastly expanding the definition used to claim a religious exemption under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. This would allow schools to discriminate on the basis of sex against students or faculty based on the moral beliefs and practices of administrators, even if those practices have no connection with a religion. Together, these federal proposals are part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing assault on the rights of women, survivors of sexual harassment and violence, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
“The president’s Executive Order is nothing more than a veiled attempt to discriminate against our nation’s patients, students, and those who are most vulnerable,” said Attorney General James. “Religion should never be used as weapon, yet the Trump Administration has repeatedly worked to pit Americans against each other by using faith as a wedge between us. Our coalition is fighting the president’s attempts to divide Americans along religious lines, and will continue to do everything in our power to protect women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those who need these valuable protections.”
In the first comment letter, the coalition of 23 attorneys general contends that HHS’ proposal fails to safeguard the rights of women and LGBTQ+ individuals — both groups which already disproportionately face barriers to care, particularly when it comes to obtaining accurate information about their health care and referrals. The receipt of accurate and impartial information from providers is vital to a patient’s health and could mean the difference between life and death. Under the proposal, faith-based providers will no longer be required to notify patients of their rights, including the right to a referral. For instance, removing notice and referral requirements will adversely impact a woman’s ability to access critical reproductive care, including an abortion. In fact, religiously-affiliated crisis pregnancy centers — which have seen an uptick in federal funding under the Trump Administration — have been known to offer patients misleading information in an attempt to discourage them from obtaining an abortion or accessing contraception. In the comment letter, the coalition maintains that HHS’ proposal is arbitrary and capricious because it fails to consider the evidence or adequately justify the proposed changes.
In the second comment letter, the coalition of 20 attorneys general highlights how the Department of Education’s proposal to expand religious exemptions under Title IX could give schools free rein to discriminate against students or faculty on the basis of sex — significantly harming people who have suffered discrimination, including sexual harassment and violence. Currently, Title IX contains a narrow religious exemption for educational institutions controlled by a religious organization. The proposal would allow more schools to discriminate on the basis of sex by broadening the criteria for institutions to claim a religious exemption, such that even schools with a tenuous relationship with religion could claim exemption from Title IX requirements. As a result, under the proposal, a student could unlawfully face discrimination — for using birth control, being pregnant or parenting a child out of marriage, or for being LGBTQ+ — simply because of the moral beliefs or practices of school administrators. Sexual harassment and violence survivors could also be denied the protections of Title IX by schools claiming to be exempt under the proposed rule. This kind of discrimination can needlessly and seriously disrupt a student's academic trajectory and career and could have a detrimental long-term effect on their mental and physical health. The coalition also notes that the proposal is arbitrary and capricious because the federal government failed to provide any substantive reasoning that would justify this dramatic departure in policy, which is contrary to the goals of Title IX.