Advance Notice: Briefs

Trump admin health care religious exemption rule blocked

By: - November 8, 2019 11:56 am

Photo by Zackary Drucker, The Gender Spectrum Collection

A President Trump administration rule that would have allowed medical professionals to refuse care for religious reasons was blocked on Wednesday by a federal judge who said it was unconstitutional.

Under the “conscience rule,” health care providers can refuse patients reproductive and sex-related health care such as receiving contraception, abortions, HIV treatment and gender reassignment surgery. They also can refuse to treat those with addictions and refuse to perform vaccinations.

Nessel sues Trump admin. over religious exemptions, says America becoming a ‘virtual theocracy’

The rule extends to anyone in the health care profession. A nurse could refuse to inform a patient about STD prevention. An emergency room doctor could refuse to treat someone with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy.  A receptionist could refuse to schedule counseling for someone with an addiction. A pharmacist could refuse to fill contraception prescriptions. 

Under the rule, health care facilities also couldn’t ask someone what services and procedures they object to before hiring them and then cannot terminate their employment because they refuse to assist in those duties.

Pharmacist Hank Wedemeyer fills prescriptions on December 1, 2009 in Aurora, Colorado. | John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer of New York cited broadness and lack of specifics in the rule that could result in health care facilities not providing care and patients not receiving it. Since the rule protects both religious and moral objections by a health care providers, health care providers could make a case to refuse any service.

Michigan joined 22 other states and cities in May in filing a lawsuit to block the rule. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at the time the rule is “alarming and terrifying.”

“According to our federal government, health care providers, from doctors to clerical staff, can decide who deserves medical care ranging from the most routine check-ups to lifesaving medical treatment – all based upon the purported religious beliefs of the provider,” Nessel said in a statement. “The imposition of this rule catapults our nation one step further toward America devolving into a virtual theocracy.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel | Susan J. Demas

This week, Nessel calls Engelmayer’s block a “victory for the coalition and for every resident it serves.”

“If implemented, this rule would have done nothing but put Americans’ access to health care in jeopardy,” Nessel said in a statement. “Health care treatment should be dictated by approved medical standards and a patient’s decision about the type of care he or she wishes to receive, not the personal beliefs of those who hold themselves out as medical professionals.”

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols is a former Michigan Advance intern. She is a Michigan State University graduate who has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.