Trump Administration Announces Postponement of Denial of Care Rule

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July 2, 2019

In response to the Trump administration’s announcement that the Denial of Care Rule will no longer go into effect on July 22, Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the County of Santa Clara issued the following statement:

“As we know from the firsthand accounts of our plaintiffs – health care providers who are on the front lines every day caring for patients – discrimination in health care is dangerous and lives are truly at stake. Confronted with these facts and the flurry of lawsuits showing how the Denial of Care Rule would irreparably harm health care providers and patients across the country, the Trump administration agreed to delay implementation. The Rule invites health care workers to discriminate based on religious or moral objections, targeting LGBTQ people and women seeking reproductive health care. The Rule is unconstitutional and we are ready to take on the Trump administration in this fight.”

On Saturday, June 29, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stipulated that it will delay the implementation of its Denial of Care Rule. A court order put the delay of the rule into effect yesterday. The rule will no longer take effect on July 22 as originally planned; instead, the rule will be delayed at least until November 22.

Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Center for Reproductive Rights, in collaboration with the County of Santa Clara and pro bono counsel from Mayer Brown, LLP, filed a lawsuit challenging the rule on May 28, and on June 11 filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction asking the court to prohibit HHS from enacting the rule. The court will hold that motion in abeyance while the merits of the case are litigated and the rule is not in effect.

The civil rights organizations represent a wide array of health providers, including Trust Women Seattle, Hartford GYN, Whitman-Walker Health, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Center on Halsted and the Mazzoni Center plus GLMA, AGLP, Medical Students for Choice, and five doctors. The County of Santa Clara itself runs an extensive health and hospital system that serves as a safety net provider for its 1.9 million residents.

The new regulation, issued in May by HHS, invites anyone employed by a health care provider – including doctors, nurses, EMTs, administrators, janitors, and clerical staff – to deny medical treatment and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs. Health care facilities that do not comply risk losing federal funding. If allowed to go into effect, the Rule will cause mass confusion among health care providers and is completely infeasible to implement. As a result, some health care facilities – most of which receive federal funding through HHS – may do away with reproductive and LGBTQ services altogether, leaving millions without access to critical health care.

In the lawsuit, the civil rights organizations argue that the rule is unconstitutional because it advances specific religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment; violates patients’ rights to privacy, liberty and equal dignity as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment; and chills patients’ speech and expression in violation of the First Amendment, all to the detriment of patients’ health and well-being. The lawsuit also asserts that HHS violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act in creating the rule by arbitrarily and capriciously failing to consider the impact on patients and the health care system.