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Nessel Condemns Federal Proposals That Would Roll Back Anti-Discrimination Protections for Patients and Students

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently joined two multistate comment letters opposing federal proposals that roll back critical anti-discrimination protections for patients and students. Both 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 understand their rights and access referrals to care from alternative providers.

In the second, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) is greatly 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 against students or faculty based on sex, citing the moral beliefs and practices of administrators for reasoning, even if those practices have no connection with a religion.

“Every Michigan resident deserves equal protection under the law,” said Nessel. “The passing of these proposals would open the door to further discriminatory practices that target women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.”

In the first comment letter, the coalition contends the HHS proposal fails to safeguard the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals, who already face barriers to care, particularly when it comes to obtaining accurate information about their health care and referrals. Receiving 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 abilities 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 to discourage them from obtaining an abortion or accessing contraception. In the comment letter, the coalition maintains that the HHS proposal is careless because it fails to consider the evidence or fairly justify the proposed changes. 

In the second comment letter, the coalition highlights how USDOE’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 from discrimination, sexual harassment and violence. Currently, Title IX contains a narrow religious exemption for educational institutions controlled by a religious organization. The proposal would broaden criteria allowing for schools with simply a minor relationship with religion to claim an 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 unreasonable 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.

Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin in filing the letter opposing the HHS proposal.

In filing the letter against the USDOE proposal, Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia.

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