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Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Donovan Joins Coalition Asking Court to Block Refusal-Of-Care Rule

September 6, 2019

Contact: Charity Clark, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171

Attorney General T.J. Donovan today joined a coalition of 26 public jurisdictions and health care providers in filing a motion for summary judgment, requesting that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York block the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) refusal-of-care rule. The rule seeks to expand the ability of businesses and individuals to refuse to provide medically necessary health care services on the basis of a business’ or an employee’s own “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

“Vermonters deserve access to high-quality health care that is free from discrimination,” said Attorney General Donovan. “The impact of HHS’s unconstitutional refusal-of-care rule would have devastating consequences and disproportionately impact women and marginalized patients, including LGBTQ+ patients. My office has been, and remains, committed to protecting access to health care for all Vermonters.”

HHS initially proposed the refusal-of-care rule in January 2018 to expand the ability of businesses and individuals to refuse to provide necessary health care on the basis of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Vermont, along with a coalition of attorneys general from around the nation, immediately submitted a comment letter to HHS urging that the rule be withdrawn. After the rule was nevertheless adopted in May 2019, the coalition filed a lawsuit against HHS arguing that the rule would fundamentally increase the number of reasons and ways in which Americans across the country could be denied essential health services. In June, that same coalition sought a preliminary injunction to prevent implementation of the rule, which resulted in the court pushing back the original implementation date. Today the coalition is asking the court to hold that the refusal-of-care rule violates federal statutory law and the U.S. Constitution

The lawsuit alleges that the final rule, if implemented, would undermine the delivery of health care by giving a wide range of health care institutions, businesses, and individuals a right to refuse care based on their own personal views. Businesses, including employers, would be able to object to providing insurance coverage for procedures they consider objectionable, and allow individual health care personnel to object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers of those options.

The scope of the rule extends to services beyond abortions, which are legal and constitutional, and broadly includes personnel such as customer services representatives at insurance companies and ambulance drivers. The rule makes the right to refuse care absolute and categorical, and no matter what reasonable steps an employer, including health care institutions, makes to accommodate the views of an objecting individual, if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation, the employer is left with no recourse. Noncompliance can result in the termination of billions of dollars in federal health care funding nationwide.

The lawsuit argues that this drastic expansion of refusal rights and the threat of termination of federal funds, violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the Spending and Establishment Clauses and the separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution.

Last modified: September 6, 2019