A Texas federal judge ruled on Wednesday that requiring employers to cover their employees’ HIV and PrEP medication represented a violation of their religious freedom.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in claiming that the PrEP mandate in the Affordable Care Act “substantially burdens” the religious rights of the employer. He also agreed that aspects of the federal government’s system for deciding what preventive care is covered by the ACA violates the Constitution.
The case was brought by two Christian corporations who sought to argue that they did not want to encourage “homosexual behavior.” O’Connor agreed with them, saying that “sincerely-held” beliefs should be upheld, and that forcing them to provide HIV medication “would make [them] complicit in those behaviors.”
Since the ruling took place last week, there has been significant backlash and it is likely to be appealed by the federal government. Though HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is not exclusive to homosexuals, the disease continues to disproportionately impact gay and bisexual men, transgender women, youth 13-24 and communities of color. Medicine like PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, are used as preventative measures to lessen the spread of HIV, according to the World Health Organization. Many argue that the ruling discriminates against the LGBT community, not least in its justification.
“Today, a radical, Republican-appointed federal judge ruled that employers can deny coverage for PrEP: a drug proven to save lives from HIV/AIDS and a key strategy for ending the epidemic,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This disturbing decision amounts to open homophobia: unleashing unthinkable suffering and death specifically among the LGBTQ community.”