National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and ACLU Ask Court To Block Health Care Denial Rule

January 15, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

HARTFORD – The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Bush administration's Health Care Denial Rule.

"The Bush administration pushed through this rule as its parting shot against women's health," said Mary Jane Gallagher, NFPRHA President & CEO.  "This rule threatens access to contraception and leaves patients with few protections, especially low-income and uninsured women who rely on federally funded health centers for care."

According to today's legal papers, the rule significantly undermines the ability of millions of women and men in the United States to access essential family planning, reproductive and other health care services and information.  It expressly permits a broad range of health care workers and facilities to refuse to provide services, information, and counseling, potentially even in emergency situations.  At the same time, it fails to require refusing providers to either notify their employers or their patients of their objections to providing care.

"For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients' access to reproductive health care," said Jennifer Dalven, Deputy Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.  "The Bush rule takes patients' health needs out of the equation. We are asking the court to restore the balance."

During a 30-day comment period, HHS received more than 200,000 comments; the overwhelming majority opposed the rule, including comments from major medical associations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women's health organizations, members of Congress, state governors and attorneys general, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, religious advocates, and the general public.

The final rule fails to address many of the concerns raised in these comments, including whether the rule prevents states from enforcing their own laws enacted to protect access to reproductive health care, whether the rule allows providers to refuse care even in emergency situations, and whether women seeking family planning services at federally funded health centers are still assured counseling for abortion care if they request it.

In addition to this legal challenge brought by NFPRHA, represented by the ACLU, the Connecticut Attorney General's Office and Planned Parenthood Federation of America with Planned Parenthood of Connecticut have filed separate legal challenges to the Bush rule.

The Department of Health and Human Services promulgated the rule on December 19, 2008; the rule is scheduled to go into effect on January 20, 2009.

The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association is a vital membership organization representing the nation's dedicated family planning providers—including state, county, and local health departments; family planning councils; hospital-based clinics; and other private nonprofit family planning organizations and providers. 

Today's case, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, Inc. v. Leavitt, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Plaintiffs include NFPRHA and the Fair Haven Community Health Clinic, Inc.  Lawyers on the case include Dalven, Deputy Director; Diana Kasdan and Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, Staff Attorneys; and Sukti Dhital, Staff Attorney Fellow with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; and David J. McGuire, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Connecticut.

Today's complaint is available at: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/gen/38321lgl20090115.html

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