HHS Rule Would Expand Ability of Businesses and Individuals to Refuse to Provide Necessary Health Care on the Basis of Religious, Moral, Ethical, or Other Beliefs

News Release, Office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh

BALTIMORE, MD (June 14, 2019) – Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh joined a coalition of 23 cities, states, and municipalities in a motion filed today to seek a preliminary injunction to stop the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from implementing a Final Rule that would expand the ability of businesses and individuals to refuse to provide necessary health care on the basis of businesses’ or employees’ “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

The motion is supported by declarations from 48 leading public health professionals from across the country.  The same coalition of 23 cities and states filed a lawsuit against HHS in May 2019 to challenge this discriminatory rule.  

“This rule would obstruct Marylanders’ ability to obtain the healthcare they need and deserve, and, in so doing, would create havoc in the delivery of health care.  It would put lives and health at risk in Maryland and across the country,” said Attorney General Frosh.  

The preliminary injunction seeks to stop the Final Rule from taking effect in July 2019, arguing that it would undermine the delivery of health care by giving a wide range of health care institutions and individuals a right to refuse care, based on the health provider’s own personal views.

The Final Rule makes this right of refusal absolute and categorical, and no matter what reasonable steps a health provider or employer makes to accommodate the views of an objecting individual, if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation, a provider or employer is left with no recourse.  For example, an emergency room doctor could refuse to assist a woman with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, even if the woman’s life was in jeopardy.  

The Final Rule significantly expands the types of providers eligible to make these refusals, ranging from medical transport providers to emergency room doctors, receptionists, customer service representatives at insurance companies, and more.  Additionally, under the Final Rule, a hospital could not inquire of a prospective employee whether they objected to conducting a certain procedure, even if the procedure is a core duty of their job.

The lawsuit filed by the coalition alleges that the risk of noncompliance is the termination of hundreds billions of dollars in federal health care funding that states and localities rely on for countless programs to promote the public health of their residents.  The lawsuit argues that this drastic expansion of refusal rights, and the draconian threat of termination of federal funds, violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act and the Spending Clause and separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution.  

In addition to Maryland, the preliminary injunction was filed by Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, the City of New York, the City of Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois.  

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...