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Antigay Texas Judge: PrEP Coverage Violates Religious Freedom

Photo by Ron Lach

The district judge ruled Wednesday that requiring insurance companies to cover medications to prevent HIV transmission is a violation of religious rights.

A federal judge in Texas has ruled partially in favor of plaintiffs that argued that requiring insurance companies to cover medications for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, violates their rights on religious grounds. 

Jonathan Mitchell, who founded a one-person law firm in 2018 intending to challenge decades-old Supreme Court rulings, brought the case Braidwood Management Inc., vs. Xavier Becerra, in the Northern District of Texas. 

There, United States district judge Reed O’Conner ruled in favor of plaintiffs who argued that paying for insurance that covers PrEP violates their religious beliefs because PrEP “enable[s and encourages] homosexual behavior.”

In the 42-page ruling, O’Connor writes, “The PrEP mandate violates Braidwood’s rights under [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”

Mitchell helped draft Texas’s Senate Bill 8, the restrictive 2021 abortion law that made everyday people bounty hunters who could sue anybody they believed may have been involved with the procedure.

O’Connor was appointed by George W. Bush in 2007. He is no stranger to controversial rulings.

“When it comes to this kind of lawsuit, you have to know the context of where it’s filed,” Harvard Cyber Law Clinic instructor Alejandra Caraballo told Plus recently. “[Conservative attorneys] know how to game the system to get particular judges like...Reed O’Connor.”

A coalition of conservative groups sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to allow them to discriminate based on religious grounds, and O’Connor ruled in 2021 that they could proceed. This was despite the Supreme Court extending employment protections for LGBTQ+ people a year earlier. In addition, O’Connor struck down Obama-era health insurance protections for LGBTQ+ people and ruled the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional (the Supreme Court later reversed O’Connor’s rulings). 

“You can file in a certain office, and you can get guaranteed a judge — and those judges have been stacked — that isn’t just conservative; these judges are reactionary,” Caraballo said. “So [lawyers] can be explicitly homophobic in their complaint and say, ‘Hey, this is our religious belief.’”

In August, O’Connor granted Mitchell’s motion to rename the case from Kelley vs. Xavier Becerra to Braidwood Managment, Inc., vs. Xavier Becerra because of bad publicity the case had received after The Advocate reported news of the matter in July.

The federal government is expected to appeal the ruling. 

This story is developing...

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