Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Lambda Legal, and the County of Santa Clara today argued before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that the Trump administration’s Denial of Care Rule should be ruled unlawful and blocked from going into effect. The organizations, along with pro bono counsel Mayer Brown LLP, are representing myriad health care providers and medical professionals, as co-plaintiffs with the County, in the lawsuit County of Santa Clara v. HHS.
The Denial of Care Rule, which was issued in May by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 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.
Today, the civil rights organizations and the County argued that HHS exceeded its authority and arbitrarily and capriciously failed to consider the rule’s potential harm to patients and the health care system, in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act. They 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.
“For more than five months this rule has hung over women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities, and other already marginalized and vulnerable populations, threatening at any moment to cut them off from critical and in some cases life-saving care,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Jamie Gliksberg said. “Our attorneys today made it transparently clear to the court just how devastating implementation of this rule will be, and we look forward to the court issuing a ruling that the facts overwhelmingly support.”
“We have less than a month before patients nationwide may be denied care because of someone else’s religious beliefs. This is about health – for ourselves, our children, our grandparents, our communities. No one should be denied medical treatment because of who they are, who they love or what they believe,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “The Denial of Care rule violates our nation’s fundamental promise of religious freedom – that we are all free to believe or not believe, so long as we don’t harm others. It is the definition of harming others when you refuse to provide health care to those in need. The court should recognize the danger this rule poses to everyone and block it from ever taking effect.”
“This policy invites unprecedented discrimination against healthcare recipients at hospitals and other healthcare facilities across the country – HHS has said it is acceptable for a receptionist to refuse a patient care or for an EMT to refuse to transport a patient with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy,” said Genevieve Scott, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “What’s more, hospitals and other healthcare facilities throughout the country will likely be coerced into eliminating abortion care, trans care, and other critical services to avoid loss of government funding that they depend upon to keep their doors open.”
“The argument today confirms that the rule has no legal or common sense basis and, if implemented, will undermine emergency services and medical care for the County’s nearly 2 million residents,” said James R. Williams, Santa Clara County Counsel. “The Trump Administration is purposefully stoking fear among already vulnerable communities and increasing barriers to critical health care. We are committed to healthcare for all—and that is why we will continue working to ensure this unlawful rule is blocked.”
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include 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; 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.