As we noted last week, two federal courts have struck down the Trump administration’s dangerous “Denial of Care Rule” that would have invited anyone working in the health care field to deny services to patients by citing religious beliefs.
The two cases were brought by officials in several states and advocates who argue that the rule endangers Americans’ health care by subjecting it to the personal religious beliefs of health workers. Americans United and its allies have two similar legal challenges to the Denial of Care Rule in the pipeline, and we are optimistic about receiving similar favorable rulings.
There are many problems with this rule, but one thing that has come to light since these important court rulings is that the Trump administration’s entire justification for the rule was built on a tissue of lies.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asserted that the number of people who said they had been pressured to act against their faith had jumped dramatically during a twelve-month period. They said there had been on average only one complaint a year for some time but that during a period preceding the new rule, the number of complaints suddenly skyrocketed to 343. In light of these numbers, the department argued it was compelled to act.
But there’s one major problem: The number is a lie. U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer called the figure “flatly untrue,” and The Washington Post noted that officials at HHS apparently arrived at this figure by including complaints about vaccinations, which would not have even been affected by the rule in question. In fact, 80 percent of the complaints were about vaccinations. Additionally, some complaints were from parents concerning treatment for their children; they weren't from health care workers at all.
So how many complaints were there? As NPR pointed out, Engelmayer noted that 21 of the complaints that HHS provided the court have even a tangential relationship to religious or moral objections. During oral arguments in the case, a government lawyer was forced to concede this was true, calling the figure “in that ballpark.”
“This conceded fact is fatal to HHS’s stated justification for the Rule,” Engelmayer wrote in his opinion. “Even assuming that all 20 or 21 complaints implicated the Conscience Provisions, those 20 or 21 are a far cry from the 343 that the Rule declared represented a ‘significant increase’ in complaints.”
Given this administration’s penchant for ignoring the truth and inventing its own “facts” to suit its needs, it’s not surprising that its justification for the Denial of Care Rule turned out to be a myth. What is surprising is that Trump’s lackeys thought they could slip this whopper by a federal court.
They got called on it. Let’s hope there’s more to come.
Meanwhile, even with these favorable rulings, it’s clear the Trump administration is going to continue pushing this rule and other policies that misuse religious freedom to justify discrimination. That’s why we’re pleased that today, U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) along with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are introducing the Put Patients First Act, which would also block the rule from going into effect. As AU’s Rachel Laser said, “It’s more important than ever that Congress enact extra safeguards to protect people’s health and fundamental rights. ... All of our lives and well-being are on the line.”
Please join us in urging Congress to pass this bill as swiftly as possible.