February 2024 Church & State Magazine - February 2024

Biden rescinds most of rule allowing religious interference in health care


The administration of President Joe Biden acted last month to mostly rescind a Trump-era Denial of Care Rule that invited health care workers to deny medical treatment and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs.

Americans United applauded the move.

No religious interference in health care: Denial of Care Rule repealed (Getty Images)

“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 Rachel Laser, AU’s president and CEO. “No one should be denied the health care they need because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

“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,” Laser continued. “Today’s rule seeks to protect patients from harm and upholds the fundamental principle of church-state separation.”

The Denial of Care Rule was issued in May 2019 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under former President Donald Trump. It invited any health care worker to deny medical care to patients because of the worker’s 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.

Americans United and allies filed two federal lawsuits challenging the Denial of Care Rule, which led to federal courts blocking the rule from going into effect. The lawsuits — County of Santa Clara v. HHS and Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar — argued that HHS during the Trump administration 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.

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.

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