Attorney General Becerra Condemns Federal Proposals to Roll Back Critical Anti-Discrimination Protections for Patients and Students

Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed two multistate comment letters in opposition to federal proposals that roll back critical anti-discrimination protections for patients and students. Both of these proposals stem from President Trump’s Executive Order that allows faith-based organizations to deny services. 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 (ED) is vastly expanding the definition used to claim a religious exemption under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (Title IX). 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.

“There’s no excuse for discrimination against patients or students, including denying lifesaving referrals or educational programs that help students thrive,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Sadly, these new proposals are just the latest example of the Trump Administration’s obsession with trampling on our nation’s anti-discrimination protections. California is prepared to step up to protect the rights of the people of our state.”

In the first comment letter, the coalition contends that HHS’ proposal fails to safeguard the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals, who already disproportionately face barriers to care, particularly when it comes to obtaining accurate information about their healthcare 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 women’s ability to access critical reproductive care, including abortion. In fact, religiously-affiliated crisis pregnancy centers, which have seen an uptick in federal funding, 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 highlights how ED’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 students’ academic trajectories and careers and has a detrimental long-term effect on the mental and physical health of students. 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.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to fighting against discrimination wherever it occurs. Late last year, Attorney General Becerra co-led a comment letter urging HHS to withdraw a proposal that would eliminate explicit anti-discrimination language governing HHS’ grant programs. The Attorney General also pushed back against a proposal to undermine protections under the Affordable Care Act that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. In July of 2019, Attorney General Becerra joined a coalition of attorneys general to defend Title VII’s anti-discrimination provisions before the U.S. Supreme Court. Early last year, the Attorney General co-led a multistate coalition opposing a Trump Administration proposal that would undermine the anti-discrimination protections of Title IX and weaken protections against sexual harassment and violence.

A copy of the HHS comment letter is available here. In filing the letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the ED comment letter is available here. In filing the letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

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