The change recognizes that "the government's enforcement of the nondiscrimination requirements must be consistent with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," the organization's CEO, Douglas Wilson, said in an email Aug. 8.
Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act forbids federally funded healthcare programs from discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the current guidelines, issued under President Obama in May 2016, "sex" is defined as including "termination of pregnancy" and "gender identity," meaning that doctors who refuse to recognize abortion or sex-change operations as appropriate medical care can face prosecution for sex discrimination.
In May, the Trump administration announced it was considering changing regulations related to section 1557, removing the expansive definition of "sex," clarifying that section 1557 cannot be used to compel doctors to perform abortions or sex-change operations, and requiring that non-discrimination protections be interpreted in line with First Amendment freedoms.
At the time of the announcement, the USCCB pro-life committee, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, issued a statement "applauding" the proposed changes and saying the bishops were "grateful" the administration was taking the "important step."
"These modifications follow the legislative intent of the Affordable Care Act to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in health care," the statement said.
"The proposed regulations would help restore the rights of health care providers – as well as insurers and employers – who decline to perform or cover abortions or 'gender transition' procedures due to ethical or professional objections. Catholic health care providers serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background. However, there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures."