Today, President-elect Donald Trump named yet another troubling pick for his cabinet: he’s tapped U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HHS is responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as many vital social service programs including those for early-childhood education and adoption and foster care. While Price’s nomination will be controversial because of his clear desire to fully dismantle the ACA, those who support religious freedom should also have concerns.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value that guarantees us the right to believe – or not – as we see fit. Price’s flawed view of religious freedom, however, seeks to use religion as an excuse to harm others.
Here’s a quick take on what’s at stake for women and LGBTQ individuals if Price becomes HHS Secretary.
Insurance Coverage for Contraception: Even if Price doesn’t oversee the full dismantling of the ACA, he is poised to repeal the regulations that ensure that more than 55 million women have insurance coverage for contraception without out-of-pocket costs.
This policy was adopted to improve access to often-expensive birth control, which is vital to women’s health and equality. Showing no understanding of the real lives of women, Price has wrongly claimed that there’s “not one woman” who can’t afford birth control. And perhaps more troubling, Price claims that the contraception coverage provision is a “trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”
Women's access to affordable birth control could take a hit with Tom Price heading the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Of course, the contraception provision doesn’t actually violate religious freedom – employers shouldn’t be allowed to use religion to ignore laws designed to ensure women have access to vital healthcare.
Furthermore, the Obama Administration already went above and beyond what was needed to address misguided complaints that the contraception coverage rule violates religious freedom. First, houses of worship are fully exempt and do not have to provide insurance coverage for contraception. In addition, closely held corporations and non-profits can also escape providing this coverage by simply filling out a form saying they have a religious objection. Their employees will still get insurance coverage, but from the insurance company rather than the objecting employer.
That did not satisfy Price, who signed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that even the act of filling out that simple form violates an employer’s religious beliefs.
A repeal of the contraception benefit would seriously harm women’s health and equality. Price’s views raise additional concerns about whether he would try to use religion to justify undermining other important healthcare benefits on which many people rely.
Basic LGBTQ Civil Rights: Price has also argued that religion is justification for denying non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
Price is a co-sponsor of the misleadingly named “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA). This bill would allow businesses, private individuals, and even taxpayer-funded social service providers and government employees to ignore any laws that conflict with a “religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” or that sex outside of such a marriage is sinful.
Under FADA, an HHS employee who provides nursing care to underserved and disadvantaged populations and opposes marriage for same-sex couples could refuse to allow a patient’s spouse to visit him in a clinic. Or the director of a Head Start program (a federally funded program to promote the school readiness of children under 5 from low-income families) could refuse to admit a child because his mother is unmarried or divorced.
In addition, Price called the Obama Administration’s “Guidance to Help Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students” “absurd,” co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples and opposed employment protections for LGBT workers.
Price’s record calls into question how he will enforce HHS’s mission “to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans,” including the ACA’s critical civil rights protections. The ACA prohibits discrimination in health programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability – including important non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and women.
Price’s view of religious freedom is not only wrong, but it could cause serious harm if he is confirmed as HHS secretary.