Americans United hailed the Biden administration for its proposal to rescind parts of the Trump administration’s “Denial of Care Rule,” which invited health care workers to deny medical treatment and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs.
“We applaud the Biden administration for taking positive steps toward protecting both religious freedom and patients’ health by rescinding the Trump-era Denial of Care Rule,” said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser in a media statement. “No one should be denied medical treatment because of someone else’s religious beliefs.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the proposed regulation on Dec. 29.
“No one should be discriminated against because of their religious or moral beliefs, especially when they are seeking or providing care,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “The proposed rule strengthens protections for people with religious or moral objections while also ensuring access to care for all in keeping with the law.”
AU’s Laser agreed, asserting, “The Denial of Care Rule was a dangerous policy that weaponized religious freedom and put the health and lives of women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and so many others in jeopardy. Today’s proposed rule recognizes the potential harm to patients and upholds the fundamental principle of church-state separation.”
The rule was issued in May 2019 by the HHS under former President Donald Trump. It invited any health care worker to deny medical care to patients because of her/his personal religious or moral beliefs. Health care facilities risked losing essential federal funding unless they granted employees carte blanche to deny services. That risk could have forced many health care facilities to eliminate services such as reproductive and LGBTQ care.
Federal courts had blocked the rule from being implemented.
Americans United and allies filed two federal lawsuits — County of Santa Clara v. HHS and Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar — challenging the Denial of Care Rule, arguing that HHS during the Trump administration had exceeded its authority by arbitrarily and capriciously failing to consider the rule’s potential harm to patients and the entire health care system, in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
AU also argued that the rule was unconstitutional because it favored specific religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment; violated patients’ rights to privacy, liberty and equal dignity as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment; and chilled patients’ speech and expression in violation of the First Amendment, all to the detriment of patients’ health and well-being.