As a result of the negative media attention the case has received, a federal judge granted a motion to change the name of a controversial lawsuit in Texas that threatens the availability of life-saving HIV prevention drugs.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Jonathan Mitchell, claims media coverage of the case led to harassment of the first-named plaintiff, which necessitated a change in the name. Attorneys representing the federal government did not object.
On Thursday, judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the case would be changed from Kelley v. Xavier Becerra et al. to Braidwood Management, Inc. v. Xavier Becerra et al.
According to Mitchell, after media outlets reported details of the case, one of his clients was subjected to “threats and cyberbullying.”
In July, The Advocate reported that Mitchell, the former solicitor general of Texas, and one of the principal architects of SB 8, a law that allowed ordinary Texans to sue people if they assisted with or had abortions, had targeted the HIV prevention medications Truvada and Descovy.
Mitchell writes in the unopposed motion to amend the caption, “The plaintiffs are making this request because the media coverage of this case has triggered a wave of threats and cyberbullying directed at the current first-listed plaintiff and his family and business, which would be alleviated if Braidwood were designated as the first-listed plaintiff going forward.”
He adds that Braidwood would also be the first name alphabetically.
The plaintiffs claim that they are entitled to a class action because the mandate to cover preventative care limits their options for coverage.
Legal experts have warned that other rights, including the right to engage in consensual same-sex intimacy, could be at risk after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade’s abortion protections.
As stated in the lawsuit, plaintiff John Kelley, an orthodontist in Tarrant County, claims he “has no desire to purchase health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage because his wife is past child-bearing years.”
Furthermore, “he does not want or need health insurance that covers Truvada or PrEP drugs because neither he nor any of his family members is engaged in behavior that transmits HIV,” the suit continues.
Braidwood Management owner Steven F. Hotze objects to mandatory coverage of STI screenings and counseling for those engaged in non-marital sexual behavior.
In Mitchell’s lawsuit, he does not specify whether his clients are sexually active.
Kelley was described in the suit as a Christian who is unwilling to support certain forms of contraception or PrEP on religious grounds because they “encourage homosexual behavior and intravenous drug use.”
Another plaintiff, Joel Starnes, who represents individuals who object to the mandate, says of himself on Facebook, “As an adopted son of God, a husband, a father, Texas Native, and patriot of the USA, I am fighting for our Natural Rights - Life, Liberty, and Property.”
Starnes has made anti-LGBTQ+ comments online and has shown his support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who was acquitted on all charges in 2021 after fatally shooting two men in Kenosha, Wisc., in 2020 and injured another with an AR-15 assault rifle.
In the suit, Mitchell writes, “The government cannot possibly show that forcing private insurers to provide PrEP drugs, the HPV vaccine, and screenings and behavioral counseling for STDs and drug use free of charge is a policy of such overriding importance that it can trump religious-freedom objections.”
During a hearing in late July, Mitchell claimed on behalf of his clients that a mandate introduced last year requiring health insurance companies to cover some preventive health care at no extra charge makes them complicit in “conduct that is contrary to their sincere religious beliefs.”
“No one is questioning the sincerity of our clients,” Mitchell told O’Connor at the time.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, which legal experts believe is likely, access to free vaccines, birth control, cancer screening, other preventative services, and PrEP could get the ax.