Federal Court Strikes Down Trump Administration Rule Allowing Refusals in Health Care

November 6, 2019 12:30 pm

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NEW YORK — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down the Trump administration’s rule that allows health care institutions and providers to deny patients information and treatment based on personal religious or moral beliefs. The American Civil Liberties Union and NYCLU lawsuit was brought on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) and Public Health Solutions (PHS).

The rule, which was scheduled to take effect November 22, moved to dramatically expand the ability of health care institutions and workers to refuse to provide medical services, and even information, to patients based on moral or religious objection to the care. It would have forced health centers that receive federal funds to employ individuals who refuse to perform essential job functions, without any regard for the wellbeing of their patients or public safety. Had the rule been allowed to take effect, a hospital receptionist could have refused to schedule an appointment for a patient seeking gender-affirming care or an orderly could have refused to transfer a patient to the operating room for an emergency abortion.

“Today’s decision is an important victory against the Trump Administration’s cruel and unlawful attempts to roll back critical patient protections,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU. “Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but religious beliefs do not include a license to discriminate, to deny essential care, or to cause harm to others.”

The Court characterized the Trump Administration Rule as “a classic solution in search of a problem.” In particular, the court’s ruling recognizes that the administration’s repeated claims that the rule was necessary to redress an increase in violations of the federal ‘conscience’ statutes was completely false. The ruling also noted that some of the administration’s arguments “cannot be taken seriously.”

“Today, the court took an important step toward safeguarding the public’s health by striking down the Trump administration’s health care refusal rule,” said Clare Coleman, NFPRHA president and CEO. “This unlawful rule is an outright attack on the health and wellness of millions of people across the country, and the court heard clear and compelling arguments about the harm communities face when our health care system is distorted to the point in which a patient’s health care needs are not paramount.”

The refusal of care rule would have its most profound impact on access to reproductive health care, particularly for the millions of patients — who are disproportionately Black and Latinx — seeking options counseling and a referral for abortion in the Title X program.

“Today’s decision rebukes the Trump administration’s unconscionable attempt to undermine access to health care,” said Lisa David, President and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “By empowering providers to put religious beliefs ahead of quality of care, this rule is a direct threat to public health, particularly for vulnerable populations. Everyone should have the power to make their own reproductive care decisions and have access to a full spectrum of health care services.”

The ACLU lawsuit was one of multiple challenges to the rule, including from a coalition of 23 cities and states led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, and another from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, and Democracy Forward.

“Personal views do not give people the right to withhold critical health care or endanger others’ lives,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Patients should be able to trust that they’re getting the health care they need, regardless of religion or politics. This is a win in the Trump administration’s continued attack on women and LGBTQ people.”

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