WASHINGTON — Today, in solidarity with UC students, patients and providers and a coalition of progressive organizations — including NARAL Pro-Choice California, Equality California, and the ACLU of California — 39 members of the California congressional delegation led by U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village), and Mark Takano (D-Riverside) issued a letter to the University of California (UC) Board of Regents and President-designate Dr. Michael Drake urging the UC to take a stand against gender and LGBTQ discrimination. In the letter, the 39 members of Congress call on the UC to protect reproductive and LGBTQ+ inclusive care as fundamental, basic health care and to adopt rules for its affiliations that draw a fundamental line: UC is a public system and must not limit its health care based on religious doctrine.
After a special working group failed to reach a unified recommendation earlier this year, the issue is back in front of the UC Board of Regents. The Regents are promising an “update” by the end of the year, but no vote has been scheduled. Advocates are asking for a transparent process and urging a vote on rules governing all UC Health affiliations, including whether and how to affiliate with health systems that impose religious restrictions on care. In existing affiliations with Dignity Health and St. Joseph Health — hospital systems which prohibit basic reproductive and gender-affirming services — UC has agreed to significantly limit the care that it provides. Such affiliations place UC providers, student trainees, and patients in hospitals under rules that harm and discriminate against patients by denying them services including LGBTQ+ inclusive care, abortion care, miscarriage management, tubal ligation, and contraception. The consequences of denying this care are serious and can even be life-threatening.
In the letter, the California members of Congress — citing their strong opposition to the Trump administration’s Refusal of Care Rule — draw a parallel between the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine reproductive and LGBTQ+ freedoms and the consequences of UC affiliations that similarly discriminate and deny women and LGBTQ+ patients care. The congressmembers demand that the guidelines adopted by the UC Board of Regents require all contracts to affirmatively state that religious directives will not apply to UC providers and students, and that hospital policies prohibiting gender-affirming services for transgender people or reproductive health services violate UC’s non-discrimination policy.
“University of California clinicians should not have their hands tied from providing reproductive and LGBTQ inclusive care because of religious directives,” said Representative Lee. “While it is critically important to expand care to underserved communities, it should be comprehensive, not restricted care that is provided.”
“It is imperative that all Californians have access to quality and affordable healthcare, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation,” said Representative Brownley. “The personal belief of healthcare providers should not be used to provide substandard care to classes of individuals. The University of California needs to make sure its actions do not narrow or restrict necessary healthcare, particularly for women and LGBTQ+ individuals, who have long faced roadblocks to getting the full healthcare they need and have a right to.”
“It is never acceptable to deny a person access to medical care under the guise of religious liberty, especially not during a pandemic, and that’s exactly what this partnership between the University of California Healthcare System and Dignity Health can lead to,” said Representative Takano. “The University of California System is a public entity that values inclusion and champions non-discrimination. That is why it is important for the UC Board of Regents to make it clear that the UC Healthcare System will not stand by discriminatory policies that harm women and LGBTQ+ people seeking medical care. UC must live up to its values and adopt guidelines that will cut ties with religiously affiliated health systems that discriminate and deny critical and life-saving care to members of our community. Women and LGBTQ+ people already face barriers to care that threaten their health, we cannot support religious policies that will make healthcare even more difficult to access.”
“The University of California should not be limiting access to healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, women or other marginalized people who already face tremendous barriers to treatment —but proposing to do so during a public health crisis is particularly offensive,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur. “The UC is toeing a dangerous line by entertaining affiliations with hospitals that have long records of refusing LGBTQ+ inclusive and reproductive care. As Californians, we must — as we always have — set the example that everyone deserves care, regardless of religious belief, sexual orientation, the color of your skin or your gender identity.”
“California is a national leader when it comes to safeguarding and expanding reproductive freedom and LGBTQ-inclusive care — which makes affiliations between the University of California and hospitals like Dignity Health, that categorically refuse to provide basic reproductive and gender-affirming care, all the more troubling,” said Shannon Hovis, Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. “Discriminatory restrictions imposed by Catholic health systems are an affront to California values, plain and simple. As the fourth-largest healthcare provider in the state, the UC has a public and moral responsibility to provide high-quality, evidence-based care, free from discrimination. With so much at stake for reproductive freedom and equality in 2020, we demand that the UC Regents take action to ensure that every body is able to access the care they need.”
Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ+ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org