(Washington, D.C.) The Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) today filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for refusing to release records related to a new division within the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) dedicated exclusively to enforcing refusal of care laws.
HHS has refused to release information about how this new division operates, how it is allocating resources, whether and how its decision making is influenced by outside groups, and why it was needed in the first place. The Center and NWLC made the original Freedom of Information Act request in January, which HHS has effectively ignored.
Said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health:
“This administration is prioritizing religious beliefs over patients’ access to care. It’s a perversion of HHS’ mission that cannot be ignored. We’re filing this lawsuit to force the Trump-Pence administration to justify why it’s using resources to fund discrimination, rather than to protect patients.”
Said Maya Rupert, Senior Director, Policy and Managing Director, D.C. Office:
“The Trump-Pence administration has repeatedly and unconstitutionally misused the concept of religious liberty to deny essential reproductive health services and embolden those who want to discriminate. Given this administration’s open hostility to reproductive health and rights, LGBTQ rights, and access to healthcare for everyone in this country, the public deserves a full accounting of the new division and how it has been using its enforcement powers.”
In addition to the new division, in January of this year, HHS proposed a new rule that could drastically expand the authority and scope of its enforcement around refusal of care laws—at the expense of crucial civil rights. The proposed rule allows religious beliefs to override patient access to care, including abortion. Furthermore, the proposed rule seeks to allow health care entities to refuse to provide information about available health care options, undermining key principles of informed consent and a provider’s obligation to act in the best interest of the patient.
The Trump-Pence administration has consistently tried to implement policies attacking access to reproductive health care. The administration has proposed rules and policies that would restrict access to abortion, birth control, and reproductive health care more broadly, such as the Global Gag Rule, Domestic Gag Rule, the interim final rules on contraceptive coverage, and regulations aimed at undermining the Affordable Care Act. The administration has also taken steps to radically restructure how funding is awarded in the Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Title X programs to shift focus away from evidence-based programs, health services, and comprehensive counseling to abstinence-only and natural family planning programs.