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Attorney General Josh Stein Opposes Rollbacks of Federal Anti-Discrimination Protections for Patients and Students

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, February 18, 2020

(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein opposed two federal proposals that roll back critical anti-discrimination protections for patients and students and would disproportionately infringe on the rights of women, survivors of sexual harassment and violence, and LGBTQ individuals. A proposal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would eliminate transparency requirements for faith-based providers that help patients understand their rights and access referrals, and a proposal from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) would allow schools to discriminate against students and faculty under a Title IX exemption. Both of these proposals stem from President Trump’s executive order that allows faith-based organizations to deny services.

“Instead of working to guarantee safe, equal treatment for everyone, the federal government is taking significant steps backwards that put women and LGBTQ individuals at greater risk for discrimination,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “These proposals could have grave consequences, and I will do everything in my power to protect the rights of all North Carolinians.”

Under the HHS proposal, faith-based providers will no longer be required to notify patients of their rights, including the right to a referral. 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. Removing this requirement would also hurt women’s ability to access critical reproductive care, including abortions. 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 its comment letter opposing the proposal, the coalition of attorneys general contend 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 health care and referrals. 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.

The ED proposal vastly expands the definition used to claim a religious exemption under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, so that even schools with a tenuous religious affiliation could claim exemption from Title IX requirements. The proposal would 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. As a result, 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 Title IX protections by schools claiming to be exempt under the proposed rule. This kind of discrimination can seriously disrupt students’ academic trajectories and careers and has a detrimental long-term effect on their mental and physical health. 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.

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

A copy of the ED comment letter is available here. Attorney General Stein is joined in filing the letter by the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Contact:
Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484

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