Press Releases

Attorney General William Tong



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

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong joined a coalition of 23 cities, states, and municipalities, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, in a motion filed today to seek a preliminary injunction to stop the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from adopting 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 states across the country. The same coalition of 23 cities and states, filed a lawsuit against HHS in May 2019 to challenge this discriminatory rule.

Connecticut submitted three declarations from the University of Connecticut, Department of Public Health, and Office of Policy and Management showing the potential for grave financial harm to the state, as well as severe risk to the health of Connecticut patients.

UConn President Susan Herbst on behalf of UConn Health Center states in her declaration that "allowing employees to opt out of providing care without prior notice will create unsafe and unethical situations with potentially awful results for our patients and staff." She states that UConn would be forced to consider costly contingencies, including potentially double-staffing emergency functions. The rule would also subject UConn Health to conflicting legal obligations under Connecticut and federal law, including the federal Ryan White Program that requires UConn to provide care to individuals with HIV/AIDS without discrimination, and Connecticut's law that requires provision of emergency contraception to the victim of sexual assault on request of the victim.

In her declaration, DPH Deputy Commissioner Janet Brancifort notes the potential for devastating financial impact to entities that receive pass through funding through DPH, including Planned Parenthood, school-based health clinics, cancer screening programs, newborn hearing screening, HIV testing and more. "DPH is at risk of losing all HHS funds if one of the 135 sub-recipients fails to comply with the Rule; but DPH's ability to control the actions of a sub-recipient is limited," she warns. The rule, she states, will have especially negative impact on the state's most vulnerable residents, including infants, youth, LGBT persons, individuals with limited incomes, individuals at higher risk for HIV, and opioid abuse.

As Senior Policy Advisory to the Secretary of OPM, Anne Foley states "the loss of HHS funds for Connecticut due to non-compliance by a State agency or by a sub-recipient would result in negative health outcomes to the citizens of Connecticut because it would significantly reduce the ability of the State to provide healthcare to its citizens." In 2018, Connecticut received approximately $5.5 billion in HHS funds.

"This rule is a grave threat to Connecticut families—imperiling billions of dollars in federal funding and dangerously compromising patient care. It is an ill-conceived effort to pander to a homophobic, anti-choice fringe, with no thought to the irreparable harm it will cause to innocent patients and our healthcare system. Connecticut stands with states across the nation in seeking to block this unlawful and discriminatory ploy," said Attorney General William Tong.

The preliminary injunction motion 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 Rule drastically expands the types of providers eligible to make such refusals, ranging from ambulance drivers to emergency room doctors to receptionists to customer service representatives at insurance companies. The Rule makes this right absolute and categorical. 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.

Under the Final Rule, a hospital could not inquire, prior to hiring a nurse, if (s)he objected to administering a measles vaccination—even if this was a core duty of the job in the middle of an outbreak of the disease. Or an emergency room doctor could refuse to assist a woman who arrived with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, even if the woman’s life was in jeopardy.

The lawsuit filed by the coalition further alleges that noncompliance with the rule risks the termination of billions of dollars in federal health care funding. If HHS determines, in its sole discretion, that states or localities have failed to comply with the Final Rule – through their own actions or the actions of thousands of sub-contractors relied upon to deliver health services – the federal government could terminate funding to those states and localities, to the price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars. States and localities rely upon those funds for countless programs to promote the public health of their residents, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, 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 and the spending clause and separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution.

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

Assistant Attorney Generals Maura Murphy Osborne and Alma Nunley assisted the Attorney General in this matter.


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