Washington, DC—This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its final rule restoring guardrails on how federal health care refusal laws are implemented. Health care refusal laws, such as the Weldon Amendment and the Church Amendments, govern when and how health care providers and other professionals can discriminate against patients by refusing access to medically necessary health care that they find objectionable based on their religious or personal beliefs.
Previously, in 2019, the Trump administration finalized unlawful and unethical regulations that dangerously expanded how OCR interpreted and implemented federal health care refusal laws, allowing health care providers to disregard evidence-based standards of care. If implemented, the 2019 Trump administration’s health care refusal rule would have drastically undermined the quality of the U.S. health care system, jeopardized the health and lives of underserved communities, and worsened health inequities. Fortunately, three federal courts held that the rule was unlawful, so it never took effect. Today, the Biden administration advanced access to care for all by rescinding the most harmful policies in the 2019 regulations, clarifying how it will implement federal health care refusal laws going forward, and emphasizing that covered entities must continue to comply with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and other federal legal protections.
Amid continued attacks on and waning access to abortion, gender-affirming care, and other essential services, the Biden administration must continue to strengthen nondiscrimination protections for underserved communities.
“We thank the Biden administration for rescinding the most harmful provisions of the Trump administration’s unlawful 2019 health care refusal rule, a crucial step toward ensuring that all people can access the care they need. As part of the Trump administration’s campaign to eliminate vital civil rights protections, the 2019 rule emboldened health care professionals to discriminatorily deny access to critical care for women, LGBTQI+ people, and people with disabilities,” said Madeline Morcelle, senior attorney at the National Health Law Program. “Amid continued attacks on and waning access to abortion, gender-affirming care, and other essential services, the Biden administration must continue to strengthen nondiscrimination protections for underserved communities.”