A Texas federal judge has ruled to allow the removal of PrEP from the healthcare plans of two companies.
Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the inclusion of the HIV treatment was in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Wednesday (7 September) after companies Braidwood Management and Kelley Orthodontics brought the case to the US District Court.
Represented by notorious anti-abortion lawyer Johnathan Mitchell, the companies filed the lawsuit claiming that PrEP’s coverage in the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) forced anti-LGBTQ+ religious companies to finance “homosexual behaviour.”
They argued that including the treatment “forces religious employers to provide coverage for drugs that facilitate and encourage homosexual behaviour… prostitution, sexual promiscuity, and intravenous drug use.”
The ruling means that neither company is obligated to cover PrEP costs for its employers, setting a dangerous precedent for medical treatment coverage nationwide.
Responding to the ruling, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote: “In addition to making affordable health insurance available to millions of Americans, the ACA has guaranteed free access to critical preventive medical services – from cancer screenings to HIV prevention drugs like PrEP.
“That guarentee is critical to the health and wellbeing of millions of Amerricans, particularly LGBTQI+ Americans, people of colour… pregnant women, and others,” she continued. “The Administration is committed to protecting Americans’ access to free preventive health care and building upon the successes of the Affordable Care Act.”
Judge O’Connor is reportedly notorious for ruling against ACA-related acts. In a tweet, legal journalist Chris Geidner explained that: “O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, regularly rules against Democratic administrations and Democrat-backed policies – leading conservative plaintiffs to seek him out to judge their cases.
O’Connor also has a history of anti-LGBTQ rulings, both as to marriage and Title IX’s sex discrimination ban.
He also has a history of overstepping, even in this era, and his rulings have repeatedly been reversed on appeal or effectively overturned by contrary SCOTUS opinions.
— Chris “Subscribe to Law Dork!” Geidner (@chrisgeidner) September 7, 2022
“O’Connor also has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ rulings, both as to marriage and Title IX’s sex discrimination ban,” he wrote. “He also has a history of overstepping, even in this era, and his rulings have repeatedly been reversed on appeal or effectively overturned by contrary SCOTUS opinions.”
According to GCN, The Biden administration have said it is reviewing the decision.
During proceedings, the defence claimed that the plaintiffs are in no position to sue because there has been no injury sustained due to the mandate and that their religious objection doesn’t qualify the removal of the ACA provision.
US Justice Department lawyer Christopher Lynch told the court in July that “just having coverage they don’t want or need” isn’t good enough to justify the attack on a provision that will lead to “ultimately fewer deaths.”
Additionally, several LGBTQ+ non-profits lambasted the lawsuit for targeting the community at a time when accessibility to HIV treatment is incredibly important.
“We need a health care system that provides for both treatment of illness when people have it and also maximises our tools in preventing illness for people who need it,” Prep4All managing director Kenyon Farrow said.
“If that is our value as a society then preventing HIV infections should be something that we all support.”