In a breathless press release, the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel is making some audacious claims about the federal Equality Act. The legislation would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, federal programs, public accommodations and credit.
But Liberty Counsel, the legal arm of the religious right movement, says the bill would “be used to force health care professionals and hospitals to perform abortions and require taxpayer funding of abortion.”
Health care facilities would be required to treat patients equally as a public accommodation under the law.
The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on May 1, by a vote of 22-10, without any support from House Republicans. The testimony against the bill from Republicans was highly contentious, with many focusing on transgender protections under the act.
Since the bill includes “pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition” as potential forms of sex discrimination aimed at women, the group says there should be a “religious exemption” to allow Christians to discriminate against pregnant women and LGBTQ people.
“Language contained in the legislation could be used to force health care professionals and hospitals to perform abortions, regardless of if this would violate their conscience. In addition, the pro-life protections in current federal and state law would also be put at risk. So, under this umbrella of ‘discrimination,’ any American who doesn’t want to fund, offer, perform, or participate in abortion-on-demand will have no real choice,” the group said in a press release.
The law does not require government funded abortions; current law already forbids that. Church-owned health facilities are already exempt from many nondiscrimination laws.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced a new rule earlier this month that would allow healthcare workers like doctors, nurses, emergency personnel, and hospice workers to discriminate if they cite their religious beliefs as justification.
The rule would allow workers to refuse to provide basic health care like birth control, refuse to treat women who have had abortions, and discriminate against gay or lesbian individuals and their families, including their children.
Healthcare is specifically included in the law because it is a common form of sex discrimination.
The University of California’s hospital in San Francisco is considering a merger with the Catholic hospital system Dignity Health. Dignity has 39 hospitals. Because Dignity is Catholic and follows the doctrines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, doctors and other health care workers there are banned from performing abortions, in vitro fertilization, doctor-assisted suicide, and any gender-affirming care for transgender people.
The law would not force the system to start offering abortions, but it would require them to offer care to transgender people. The hospital chain is currently fighting two lawsuits from the ACLU. In one case, the hospital refused to provide a hysterectomy to a trans man.
The bill is widely expected to pass in the House of Representatives, given the bill has 240 sponsors — including three Republicans — and the bill only needs 218 votes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the bill is a priority in this session of Congress.
Its success is far from guaranteed in the Senate, however, as the Republicans control a majority of seats, even though Senator Tammy Baldwin has said that she thinks it could garner just enough votes to pass.