Anti-abortion lawyer targets HIV prevention drug PrEP in religious freedom lawsuit

Former texas solicitor Jonathan F. Mitchell

Anti-abortion lawyer Jonathan Mitchell has set his sights on the HIV prevention drug PrEP.

The former Republican solicitor general of Texas, know for his involvement in the Texas ‘Heartbeat Act’ abortion ban, is arguing a religious freedom lawsuit targeting Gilead Science’s Truvada and Descovy treatments – forms of pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP.

The suit claims that mandatory PrEP coverage under the Affordable Care Act is forcing Christians to finance “homosexual behaviour”, and is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The federal law “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected” and that the US government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

It has been used in further healthcare-related suits, including abortion-based rights, contraception, and gender-affirming healthcare.

Mitchell has claimed on behalf of his clients in a hearing on Tuesday (26 July) that a mandate introduced last year, which requires health insurance companies to cover various preventative healthcare at no extra cost, makes them complicit in “conduct that is contrary to their sincere religious beliefs”.

The provision featured under the Affordable Care Act which clients Kelley Orthodontics and Braidwood Management Inc have taken issue with also covers services such as cancer screenings and polio vaccinations.

The main goal is to block the entire service mandate under the ACA without a trial, with Mitchell arguing that his clients’ autonomy is being undermined by government officials who dictate the list of services provided. A motion for summary judgement singles out PrEP access.

If the suit is successful, the effects would have a significant impact on nationwide preventive care accessibility.

“A complicity-based objection has to be accepted by the courts,” Mitchell said to US district judge Reed O’Connor. “No one is questioning the sincerity of our clients.”

According to reports from Bloomberg, O’Connor is the same judge who ruled the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional in 2018, with the Supreme Court voting to uphold it for a second time.

The defence has claimed that the plaintiffs are in no position to sue because there has been no injury sustained due to the mandate, further claiming their religious objection doesn’t qualify the removal of the ACA provision.

US Justice Department lawyer Christopher Lynch told the court on Tuesday that “just having coverage they don’t want or need” isn’t good enough to justify the attack on a provision that will lead to “ultimately fewer deaths.”

LGBTQ+ non-profits have lambasted the lawsuit for targeting the community at a pivotal time when accessibility to preventive drugs should be dramatically increased.

“We need a health care system that provides for both treatment of illness when people have it and also maximises our tools in preventing illness for people who need it,” Prep4All managing director Kenyon Farrow said.

“If that is our value as a society then preventing HIV infections should be something that we all support.”