A Texas judge on Wednesday ruled that mandatory free coverage of HIV prevention drugs, known as PrEP, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
U.S. District Judge Reid O’Connor granted summary judgment in favor of Braidwood Management, a for-profit Christian company with nearly 70 employees. Braidwood owner Stephen Hotze believes that providing PrEP coverage “facilitates and encourages homosexual behavior, intravenous drug use, and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman,” according to the complaint.
Judge O’Connor ruled that Braidwood had shown that the PrEP mandate outlined in the Affordable Care Act “significantly burdens” her religious exercise. He said the government must show that the PrEP mandate furthers “a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” PrEP prescriptions can be expensive, costing up to $20,000 per year.
Six individuals and two businesses filed a lawsuit against Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and other government officials, challenging the legality of preventive care mandates for several health benefits. This includes STD screenings, contraception and PrEP coverage under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So far, Judge O’Connor has only ruled on the PrEP portion of the complaint.
The judge’s decision referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby many times, which said the chain store didn’t have to cover contraception because it violated RFRA.
The case involving PrEP is likely to reach the Supreme Court as well, according to David Steinco-founder and CEO of a home diagnostics platform Ash Wellness specialized in the diagnosis of STIs and HIV. Stein embraced PrEP and started the company because she felt accessing care as someone in the LGBTQ+ community was a challenge.
“This is not the first decision to attack our communities, and it certainly won’t be the last. But at a time when HIV is still a pandemic and 22% of new HIV cases in the US are in heterosexual people, this is dangerous and will lead to an increase in HIV cases and ultimately more stigma and shame in seeking PrEP. which dramatically reduces the spread of HIV,” Stein said in an emailed statement.
Under O’Connor’s summary judgment order, the parties have until Friday to outline what other issues remain to be resolved and provide a schedule for remaining briefing.
Attorneys for Braidwood and the government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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