Christian Providers Group to Appeal Health-Worker Religious Rule

Nov. 14, 2019, 9:20 PM

A Christian health-care providers trade group and one of its member doctors are planning to appeal a judge’s decision tossing out the Trump administration rule that would have allowed health-care workers to refuse to treat certain patients based on their own religious and moral beliefs.

The Christian Medical and Dental Associations and Regina Frost will be appealing the Nov. 6 ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, their attorney Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told Bloomberg Law Nov. 14.

“At the end of the day, folks like Dr. Regina Frost are willing to serve everyone,” Blomberg said. “They wouldn’t say no to anyone for basic medical care. They are just looking for an accommodation to opt out of certain procedures such as abortion or assisted suicide.”

Judge Paul Engelmayer, on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, sided with a coalition of 19 state and local governments led by New York, the District of Columbia, New York City, Chicago, and Cook County, Ill., as well as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, that challenged the legality of the conscience protection rule.

Engelmayer found the Department of Health and Human Services lacked authority to issue significant portions of the rule and that it unlawfully conflicted with civil rights laws banning workplace discrimination and the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act. That law requires hospitals that receive federal funds and have emergency departments to treat any patient suffering from an emergency medical condition, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

Engelmayer refused to save any portion of the rule.

“In these circumstances, a decision to leave standing isolated shards of the rule that have not been found specifically infirm would ignore the big picture: that the rulemaking exercise here was sufficiently shot through with glaring legal defects as to not justify a search for survivors,” he reasoned in his 147-page opinion.

Blomberg has not yet filed a notice with the court of his clients’ plan to appeal. The Christian Medical and Dental Associations, Frost, and the HHS all have 60 days following the court’s ruling to appeal. The HHS, which was the lead defendant in the case, declined to comment and the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Planned Parenthood receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

A federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Washington also struck down the HHS rule in a ruling from the bench Nov. 7. A written decision is forthcoming. If that ruling is ultimately appealed, the case would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for review.

The case is New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Servs., S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-04676, 11/14/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Wheeler in Washington at lwheeler@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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