On Thursday, the Trump Administration continued its trend of trying to roll back civil rights protections by appointing Roger Severino, formerly of the Heritage Foundation, to head the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services. Severino has repeatedly spoken out against OCR’s implementation of civil rights laws and has made attacking women’s and LGBTQ people’s access to health care a focus of his career. He has vocally opposed reproductive rights and supports efforts to keep Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving reimbursement for providing health services under programs such as Medicaid. Yet, he is now in charge of the office that is supposed to protect people from discrimination in health care.
In his new role, Severino could refuse to enforce key laws that protect individuals’ access to health care, or he could try to expand laws that already jeopardize women’s access to reproductive health care. Here is what you need to know:
- The Office for Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring that people are treated fairly and without discrimination when they need health care services. It enforces laws, such as Section 1557 of the ACA, that protect people from discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex – including sex stereotyping and gender identity – age, and disability. Yet, Severino called Section 1557’s requirements to protect transgender people from discrimination in health care a “radical social experiment” that should be overturned by the courts. Severino is now in a position to enforce a law that he opposes, raising serious questions about what his appointment will mean for transgender individuals, who need these protections. Nearly 1 in 5 transgender (19%) people report that they have been denied health care outright and 28% report being harassed in a health care setting.
- The Office for Civil Rights is also charged with enforcing federal laws that allow health care providers to refuse to offer or refer women for abortion services. Protected by these provisions, health care entities have denied and delayed care to women experiencing ectopic pregnancies or miscarriage because they oppose any medical intervention that ends a pregnancy, even when necessary to save a woman’s life. Severino supports codifying and expanding these religious exemption laws that deny women needed care. Severino is now in a position to say what those laws mean – and could try to expand the scope of the laws and allow greater threats to women’s access to reproductive health care.
- Severino’s opposition to reproductive rights demonstrates that he cares more about denying women access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion, than protecting women’s health.
- Severino has argued that Congress should prohibit the District of Columbia from implementing the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Action, which protects individuals from discrimination at their job because of their reproductive health decisions. Without this protection, women are at risk of being fired or demoted because they had an abortion, became pregnant when they weren’t married, or used assisted reproductive technologies to become pregnant. Not only does Severino show a profound disrespect for women’s decision-making, but he also shows a complete disregard for the citizens of the District of Columbia who support the law.
- Severino has also attacked Planned Parenthood, arguing that its affiliates should not be allowed to receive Title X family planning grants, Medicaid reimbursements, and other grants and contracts. This would have a devastating effect on the5 million women and men who visit Planned Parenthood every year in the United States. Women who are struggling to make ends meet, women of color, and women living in rural areas for whom Planned Parenthood may be the only available option would suffer the most. In fact, Planned Parenthood is the only source of care for nearly 4 in 10 women who visit their clinics.
The Office for Civil Rights has an obligation to serve the American people and protect against discrimination in health care. Yet, Roger Severino has consistently opposed efforts to enforce key civil rights laws and protections in health care and supports policies that would deny women and LGBTQ people access to needed health care services. His appointment is unacceptable and NWLC will fight any attempt to roll back civil rights and access to health care. We won’t go back!