Press Release

AG Ellison, coalition ask court to block Trump Administration’s healthcare discrimination rule

Discriminatory ‘refusal of care’ rule would drastically expand healthcare providers’ rights to deny necessary healthcare to anyone they choose, solely on the basis of their own ‘religious beliefs or moral convictions’

September 9, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has joined 22 other state and local governments, as well as multiple healthcare providers, in filing a motion for summary judgment that asks the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to permanently block the Trump Administration’s discriminatory ‘refusal-of-care’ rule. The rule would allow a dramatically expanded list of healthcare providers, whether businesses or employees, to refuse necessary and critical healthcare services to virtually anyone they choose if they claim that serving someone conflicts with their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

“Healthcare is a human right. Discrimination violates human rights. It’s that simple,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Living with dignity and respect means that when you need healthcare, you’ll be treated with the same urgency, professionalism, and compassion as everyone else — no matter who you are, what you believe, how you dress, whom you love, what you look like, how able you are, what language you speak, or where you come from.

“I will not let the Trump Administration let any Minnesotan get sick, suffer, or die because they think your life is worth less than someone else’s,” Attorney General Ellison concluded.

In January 2018, the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initially proposed the rule that would expand the ability of businesses and individuals to refuse to provide necessary healthcare on the basis of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” A coalition of attorneys general immediately submitted a comment letter to the Administration urging that the rule be withdrawn. In May 2019 — after the rule was adopted — Attorney General Ellison and the coalition filed a lawsuit against the Administration, arguing that the rule would undermine the delivery of healthcare by giving a wide range of healthcare institutions and individuals the right to refuse care based solely on their own personal views. In June 2019, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition sought a preliminary injunction to prevent implementation of the rule. The court then delayed the original July 2019 implementation date for the rule. Today, the coalition is asking the court to hold that the ‘refusal of care’ rule violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit alleges the rule undermines the delivery of healthcare services by allowing any healthcare worker — including ambulance drivers, emergency room doctors, receptionists, and insurance customer-service representatives — the right to refuse care.

The rule drastically expands the number of providers eligible to make such refusals, ranging from ambulance drivers to emergency room doctors to receptionists to customer-service representatives at insurance companies. Additionally, the rule makes this right absolute and categorical: no matter what reasonable steps a health provider or employer makes to accommodate the views of someone who wants to discriminate, if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation, a provider or employer would be left with no recourse but to allow the individual to discriminate.

Under the rule, a hospital could not inquire if a nursing applicant objected to administering a measles vaccination — even though it could be a core duty of the job in the middle of a measles outbreak. The rule would allow an emergency room doctor to refuse to treat a woman who arrived with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy — even if the woman’s life was in jeopardy. Under the rule, businesses could refuse to provide insurance coverage for procedures they consider objectionable. Individual healthcare workers — including clerical staff – could object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers of those options.

If state and local governments did not allow providers to discriminate, the Department of Health and Human Services would terminate billions of dollars in federal healthcare funding. HHS would have sole discretion to determine if states or cities have failed to comply with the rule — whether through their own actions or the actions of thousands of sub-contractors relied upon to deliver health services — and terminate funding to those states and cities. Funds at risk include Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, along with countless programs to promote public health including HIV/AIDS and STD prevention and education, and substance-abuse and mental-health treatment.

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

Additionally, two separate lawsuits were brought against the federal government for implementation of this rule by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and one of its affiliates, as well as by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Public Health Solutions. They have now been consolidated into this lawsuit.

Attorney General Ellison joined the Attorneys General of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, the cities of New York and Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois in filing the motion.  

A copy of the filing is available on the website of New York Attorney General Letitia James.