ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL: COURT VACATES HEALTH CARE DISCRIMINATION RULE
Federal ‘Refusal-of-Care’ Rule Would Have Allowed Businesses and Individuals to Refuse to Provide Health Care Based on Their Own Religious, Moral, Ethical Beliefs
Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul today lauded a federal court decision to vacate a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that would have allowed health care providers to arbitrarily deny patients access to important health care services.
The opinion was issued today in the Southern District of New York in a lawsuit joined in May by Raoul as part of a coalition of states and local governments. In its opinion, the court found that HHS did not have the authority to implement significant portions of the rule. Additionally, the court found that the agency’s stated justification for imposing the rule was factually untrue and not supported by the evidentiary record. The court also determined that the rule’s provision allowing termination of federal funding as punishment for noncompliance was unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers.
“Access to critical health care services should not depend upon the prejudices of another person,” Raoul said. “I will always fight to protect the right of patients to make health care decisions in consultation with medical professionals, and without government interference.”
HHS initially proposed the rule in January 2018 to expand the ability of businesses and individuals to refuse to provide necessary health care on the basis of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Raoul and the coalition challenged the rule, arguing that it would fundamentally increase the number of reasons and ways Americans across the country could be denied essential health services. The lawsuit alleged that the final rule, if implemented, would drastically expand the number of providers eligible to refuse care, ranging from ambulance drivers to emergency room doctors to receptionists to customer service representatives at insurance companies. Additionally, the rule would make that right absolute and categorical, and no matter what reasonable steps a health provider or employer makes to accommodate the views of an objecting individual, the provider or employer would be left with no recourse if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation.
Under the rule, a hospital could not inquire, prior to hiring a nurse, if that individual objected to administering a measles vaccination — even if this was a core duty of the job in the middle of an outbreak of the disease. A doctor could also refuse to assist a woman who arrived with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Businesses, including employers, would be able to object to providing insurance coverage for procedures they consider objectionable, and allow individual health care personnel to object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers of those options. The devastating consequences of the rule would fall particularly hard on marginalized patients, including LGBTQ+ patients, who already confront discrimination in obtaining health care.
In a motion for summary judgment filed in September, Raoul and the coalition asked the court to block the rule because its drastic expansion of refusal rights and its draconian threat to terminate federal funds violate the federal Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the Spending and Establishment Clauses and the separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution.
Joining Attorney General Raoul in filing the lawsuit were the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia; as well as the cities of New York and Chicago; and Cook County, Ill. Additionally, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and one of its affiliates, as well as the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Public Health Solutions, brought two separate lawsuits against the administration for implementation of this rule which were consolidated into this lawsuit.