Advocates Urge Federal Court to Affirm Ruling Striking Down Trump Administration Denial of Care Rule

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October 14, 2020

Today, Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the County of Santa Clara filed an answering brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the court to affirm a lower court ruling striking down the Denial of Care Rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In that earlier ruling issued in November, 2019, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge William H. Alsup found the proposed Denial of Care Rule “saturated with error,” and struck the rule down in its entirety. Judge Alsup became the third judge in rapid succession last November to vacate the rule, joining judges for the Eastern District of Washington and Southern District of New York.

“There is no rationale for breathing life into a rule Judge Alsup found ‘so saturated with error’ that he could find literally no aspect of it that passed constitutional muster,” said Camilla Taylor, Director of Constitutional Litigation, Lambda Legal. “Three separate federal judges last November recognized the Denial of Care Rule for what it is, an egregious and unconstitutional attack on women, LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations. It deserved to be relegated to the dustbin of history, and it deserves to stay there.” 

The Denial of Care Rule, which was issued in May, 2019, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, invited any health care worker – including doctors, nurses, EMTs, administrators, janitors and clerical staff – to deny medical treatment, information and services to patients because of personal religious or moral beliefs. Health care facilities risked losing essential federal funding if they did not grant employees carte blanche to deny services. Because the rule was confusing and infeasible to implement, many health care facilities would likely have been forced to eliminate services such as reproductive and LGBTQ care, leaving millions across the United States without access to critical health care.

On November 6, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a ruling in State of New York v. HHScompletely vacating the Denial of Care Rule. The next day, November 8, 2019, Judge Stanley Bastian of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington ruled from the bench in State of Washington v. Azar, agreeing with the ruling out of New York. Judge Alsup’s ruling in three cases combined for argument – County of Santa Clara v. HHSCity and County of San Francisco v. Azar, and State of California v. Azar – issued on November 19, 2019.

In addition to the County of Santa Clara, which runs an extensive health and hospital system that serves as a safety-net provider for the county’s 1.9 million residents, the plaintiffs in County of Santa Clara v. HHS include: the health providers Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Pa.; Center on Halsted in Chicago; Hartford GYN in Connecticut; Los Angeles LGBT Center; Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, and Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C.; the associations AGLP, GLMA, and Medical Students for Choice; and five doctors. 

Read today’s filing here. In addition to the three cases combined in County of Santa Clara v. HHS, the Ninth Circuit has also added State of Washington v. Azar for purposes of the appeal.