NJ AG and ACLU File Suits Against Health Care Denial Rule

January 15, 2009

NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey applauded New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram for signing onto a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration's Health Care Denial Rule on the same day the national ACLU announced a separate lawsuit on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) against the same rule. The rule, promulgated in the last throes of the Bush administration, allows a broad range of health care workers to refuse to provide health services, even in emergencies.

"The attorneys general play a critical role in fighting this rule, and we applaud Anne Milgram's initiative to step into the fray as the ACLU has," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. "The federal government has always been able to balance both patients' rights and the personal beliefs of medical professionals, and this rule is the Bush administration's way of toppling the balance away from patients' needs. This rule puts access to contraception in jeopardy and leaves women in a medical limbo where they have to question whether they'll get the services they need in time, if at all."

In addition to the ACLU's lawsuit on behalf of NFPRHA and the lawsuit brought by the six states' attorneys general led by Connecticut and including New Jersey, a third lawsuit was filed today by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America with Planned Parenthood of Connecticut.

As stated in today's legal papers, the rule significantly undermines the ability of millions of women and men in the United States to access essential family planning, reproductive and other health care services and information. It expressly permits a broad range of health care workers and facilities to refuse to provide services, information, and counseling, potentially even in emergency situations. At the same time, it fails to require refusing providers to either notify their employers or their patients of their objections to providing care.

"Experts, medical professionals and the patients whose rights this rule limits all agree that this policy will endanger lives and sacrifice patients' individual liberties," Barocas added. "The Bush administration should be ashamed that it spent its last months slipping in last-minute policies that put Americans' health at risk."

During a 30-day comment period, HHS received more than 200,000 responses. The overwhelming majority opposed the rule, including major medical associations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women's health organizations, members of Congress, state governors and attorneys general, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, religious advocates, and the general public.

The final rule fails to address many of the concerns raised in these comments, including whether the rule prevents states from enforcing their own laws enacted to protect access to reproductive health care, whether the rule allows providers to refuse care even in emergency situations, and whether women seeking family planning services at federally funded health centers are still assured counseling for abortion care if they request it.

The Department of Health and Human Services promulgated the rule on December 19, 2008.

The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association is a vital membership organization representing the nation's dedicated family planning providers-including state, county, and local health departments; family planning councils; hospital-based clinics; and other private nonprofit family planning organizations and providers.

The ACLU's complaint is available at: http://www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/gen/38321lgl20090115.html

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