New Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration over Rule Allowing Refusals in Health Care

The complaint was filed by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, Public Health Solutions, ACLU, and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

June 11, 2019


Mia Jacobs, ACLU, 201-919-0333,
Audrey Sandusky, NFPRHA, 202-344-5805,
Hillary Wasserman, PHS, 212-784-5726,
Trevor Smith, NYCLU, 212-607-3304,

NEW YORK — The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), Public Health Solutions (PHS), The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s rule that allows health care personnel to deny patients information and treatment based on personal religious or moral beliefs.

The rule, finalized last month by the Department of Health and Human Services, aims to dramatically expand the ability of health care institutions and workers to refuse to provide medical services, and even information, from patients if they have a moral or religious objection to the care. Under the policy, a hospital receptionist could refuse to schedule an appointment for a transgender patient seeking gender-affirming care and an orderly could refuse to transfer a patient to the operating room for an emergency abortion.

The rule’s sweeping terms are likely to embolden refusals to provide a range of other health services. It forces health centers that receive federal funds to employ individuals who refuse to perform essential job functions, without any regard for the wellbeing of their patients or public safety.

“The ACLU will not stand by as our government institutes policy that could endanger people’s lives” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU. “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it cannot be used to harm others — especially when that includes withholding emergency care or critical information about patients’ health.”

The rule also undercuts the integrity of Title X, the nation’s leading family planning program, unlawfully granting new pathways for individuals and institutions to withhold critical information and health care from patients. Health departments would not even be able to anticipate their subcontractors opting out of certain care, as they would be prevented from asking if a provider or entity objects to aspects of Title X care. This would be devastating to patients who rely on the Title X program’s guarantee of high-quality care, and won’t receive it from that objecting entity.

“The rule could eviscerate the delivery of high-quality family planning services in this country,” said Clare Coleman, NFPRHA President & CEO. “Health care providers’ beliefs should never determine whether patients can access essential care they need to stay healthy. NFPRHA is going to court to make sure that patients get the critical information and care that they need, and to ensure that the patient’s well-being is paramount.”

Today’s filing comes alongside similar challenges from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, and Democracy Forward.

“This discriminatory rule will undermine access to health care for populations nationwide and roll back the years of progress we’ve made on advancing the quality of family planning services,” said Lisa David, president and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “As a Title X grantee and provider of several other services that rely on HHS funding, Public Health Solutions will not stand idle as this rule threatens the health of the populations we serve. To protect public health, the only option is to challenge this rule in court.”

In May, New York Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 23 cities and states, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the same final rule.

“Personal views do not give people the right to withhold critical health care or endanger others’ lives,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Patients should be able to trust that they’re getting the health care they need, regardless of religion or politics. This is just the latest in the Trump administration’s continued attack on women and LGBTQ people, and New Yorkers won’t stand for it.”

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