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    Will an Ambulance Dump You on the Side of the Road?

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    Imagine you’re a transgender person who after years of waiting finally has been able to have life-affirming gender confirmation surgery. But some unlikely and unexpected complication arises, and you need to be rushed to the nearest ER. When in the ambulance en route you tell the EMT what’s going on; the EMT commands the driver to stop the car immediately. After the EMT and driver exchange a few words among themselves, they open the door and dump you on the side of the road—left on your own to somehow make it to the ER. 

    You later learn that your having gender confirmation surgery had offended the EMT and driver’s personal religious beliefs.  Under the Trump-Pence administration’s new religious “conscience” rule, more aptly called the “denial of care” rule, they could refuse you services at any time because the medical provider, like most medical facilities nationwide, received particular types of federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

    Fortunately for the time being, this scenario is less likely to take place because Northern California Federal District Judge William Alsup last week joined federal court judges in New York and Washington State in ruling that the denial of care rule had no basis in law and enjoined its enforcement nationwide.

    The breadth of the Trump-Pence Administration’s denial of care rule that they are attempting to enforce is astonishing. The rule’s preamble focuses on abortion-related care and services, but the new regulation applies to any medical service provider who objects to providing their services to anyone for any religious belief. In the context of Trump-Pence political strategy, it is clear that the rule panders to conservative political Christian interests and targets women, LGBTIQ people—especially transgender people—and other politically vulnerable populations.

    Judge Alsup in his ruling explicates how the denial of service rule does not just apply to physicians and nurses, but to ambulance drivers and many other staff who have at best a remote connection to the medical care being provided. Using abortion (and that includes emergency abortions necessary to save the life of the mother) as an example, Alsup explains that “a clerk scheduling surgeries for an operating room could refuse to reserve slots for abortions … . So could an employee who merely sterilizes and places surgical instruments or ensures that the supply cabinets in the operating room are fully stocked in preparation for an abortion.” 

    Professional staff who provide “[p]re- and post-op tasks [that] include monitoring and ensuring that a patient is stable and/or recovering following a procedure such as taking vitals and placing an intravenous line” could refuse to do so based on their religious objections. “Medical laboratories run tests that assist in diagnosing or in analyzing the outcome of certain procedures” could close their doors to people they chose to based on religious grounds.

    Pharmacists whose “only possible role in an abortion … procedure would be dispensing advance medication to facilitate the procedure or post-procedure medication to stabilize or heal the patient, such as pain medication” could turn their backs on a patient.

    Housekeeping staff could even object to cleaning a patient’s hospital room. And “an entity could lose all of its HHS funding if it fired a hospital front-desk employee for refusing to tell a woman seeking an emergency abortion for a [life-threatening] pregnancy which floor she needed to go to for her procedure.”

    Although we are gratified that three federal district courts have struck down the denial of care rule that could cause so much harm, these cases will very likely wind their ways through the federal appellate courts and could ultimately end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. 

    And that’s one of numerous reasons that arch anti-LGBTIQ conservative Brian Brown’s October 29th tweet of a photo of himself with Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh and very conservative Catholics advocates inside the Supreme Court itself deeply disturbs us. The New Yorker reports that Brown believes that “the rights of L.G.B.T. people shouldn’t be protected at all—that, in his ideal society, there would be no L.G.B.T. people, in fact.”

    Brown’s misnamed National Organization for Marriage is a strident opponent of LGBTIQ equality in the U.S. and worldwide.  The group has filed numerous legal briefs against LGBTIQ rights, including briefs in the employment discrimination cases now pending before the Court—even as Brown met with Alito and Kavanaugh inside the Court.

    We are a democracy, not a theocracy. But even from a religious point of view, it seems particularly incongruous for people who purport to be devout Christians to trumpet denying medical care to other human beings. After all, one of the things that Jesus of the Gospels is most famous for is healing the sick. He didn’t assert conscience-based religious objections to caring for people.
     
    Where is that compassion now?

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published November 28, 2019