As we’ve noted on this blog several times, Americans United is in court defending patients from the Trump administration’s reckless Denial of Care Rule in court. This dangerous directive would invite anyone who works in the health care field, from an intake clerk at a hospital to an EMT in an ambulance, to cite their religious beliefs to deny services to others. It would place the health care of millions of Americans at risk.

The rule, which was promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was scheduled to go into effect Nov. 22.  Thanks to legal action by Americans United and other groups, that didn’t happen. Three federal courts have blocked the rule.

But there was another development last week that shouldn’t be overlooked: A federal judge in Washington state, who had previously ruled from the bench that the Denial of Care Rule must be invalidated, issued a written opinion explaining why the rule must fail.

U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Bastian’s written opinion is notable because he does something the other judges who have heard this matter haven’t done: He goes into detail about the real harm to real people this rule would cause.

“It seems elementary that increasing the number of medical professionals who would deny care based on religious or moral objections would not increase access to care; instead, access to care will deteriorate, especially for those individuals in vulnerable populations who will be the target of religious or moral objections,” observed Bastian.

Bastian also discussed how the rule would disproportionately harm members of vulnerable populations.

“[T]he Court agrees with Plaintiff’s position that the Rule is arbitrary and capricious because HHS disregarded the comments and evidence showing the Rule would severely and disproportionately harm certain vulnerable populations, including women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT individuals); individuals with disabilities; and people living in rural areas,” wrote Bastian. “What is particularly glaring is HHS’s willingness to rely on anecdotes of bias and animus in the health care sector against individuals with religious beliefs and moral convictions … but disregarding ‘anecdotal accounts of discrimination by LGBT’ people, citing the lack of suitable data for estimating the impact of the rule. HHS’s ‘internally inconsistent’ treatment of the anecdotal evidence – relying upon it when it supports the rule but dismissing it when it does not – renders the rulemaking process arbitrary and capricious.”

Bastian also added an important detail: The Denial of Care Rule violates the basic tenets of medical ethics.

“[T]he Rule is arbitrary and capricious because HHS failed to conduct a reasoned analysis of the requirements of basic medical ethics in adopting the Rule,” he wrote. “HHS failed to consider that the Rule’s new statutory definitions, which would allow an employee to refuse to participate in life-saving treatment without notice and permits health care entities and providers to withhold basic information from patients, would contravene medical ethics and deprive patients of the ability to provide informed consent.”

Arguments made in a court of law are sometimes difficult for the layperson to grasp. That’s why Americans United, as it has pursued this litigation, has also used social media, press statements and Church & State articles to make it clear what’s at stake: You or someone you love could be denied vital medical care because of a stranger’s religious beliefs.

That’s not right, and with your help, Americans United will continue to fight the misguided Denial of Care Rule in court. We’ll also explain to the American people exactly what’s at stake – nothing less than millions of Americas’ ability to access safe health care untainted by religious discrimination.