A Federal Trial Court in New York Fully Vacated HHS's "Denial of Care" Rule

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November 6, 2019

Today, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order and opinion in State of New York v. HHS, completely vacating the Denial of Care Rule. Lambda Legal applauds the decision.

Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the County of Santa Clara are currently litigating a similar case challenging the same rule.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Jamie Gliksberg issued the following statement:

“In his decision to completely eliminate the Denial of Care Rule, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer has likely saved countless lives. Courts across the country are seeing the Denial of Care Rule for what it is, an egregious violation of the civil rights of and a direct attack on the lives of women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and many others.

"The Denial of Care Rule was deeply rooted in animus against some of our most marginalized and vulnerable communities, and that has no place in our society. We are thrilled about today’s decision.”

The Denial of Care Rule, which was issued in May by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), invites any health care worker – including doctors, nurses, EMTs, administrators, janitors and clerical staff – to deny medical treatment, information and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs.

Health care facilities risk losing essential federal funding if they do not grant employees carte blanche to deny services.

Because the rule is confusing and infeasible to implement, many health care facilities will likely be forced to eliminate services such as reproductive and LGBTQ care, leaving millions across the United States without access to critical health care.

On October 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard arguments in County of Santa Clara v. HHS, where Lambda Legal and co-counsel argued that HHS exceeded its authority and arbitrarily and capriciously failed to consider the rule’s harms to patients and the health care system, in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

Lambda Legal and co-counsel also argued 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 court also heard argument in similar cases filed by the City and County of San Francisco and the State of California.

In addition to the County of Santa Clara, which runs an extensive health and hospital system that serves as a safety-net provider for the county’s 1.9 million residents, plaintiffs in County of Santa Clara v. HHS include the health providers Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Pa., Center on Halsted in Chicago, Hartford GYN in Connecticut, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, Trust Women Seattle and Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C.; the associations AGLP, GLMA and Medical Students for Choice; and five doctors.