Lambda Legal Applauds as Second Judge Vacates HHS Denial of Care Rule

(Chicago, IL, November 7, 2019 – Today, U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington Judge Stanley A. Bastian struck down the Denial of Care Rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), becoming the second judge in two days to vacate the rule, recognizing its discriminatory and unconstitutional scope. 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 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Jamie Gliksberg issued the following statement:

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“Two judges in two days have recognized the Denial of Care Rule for what it is, an egregious and unconstitutional attack on women, LGBT people and other vulnerable populations. In his ruling, delivered from the bench, Judge Bastian joins Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of the Southern District of New York in vacating this discriminatory and harmful rule, and in likely saving countless lives. The Denial of Care Rule targets some of our most marginalized and vulnerable communities and deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of history.”

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 potential harm 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.

On November 6, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a ruling in State of New York v. HHS completely vacating the Denial of Care Rule. Read the opinion and order here. Judge Bastian ruled from the bench today in State of Washington v. Azar, agreeing with the ruling out of New York. A written opinion is forthcoming.

The plaintiffs in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit 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. Read more about County of Santa Clara v. HHS here.