By Rachel Esster, National Women’s Law Center
In May, the Trump-Pence Administration finalized a rule that would allow a provider’s personal beliefs to dictate patient care. This week, Congress is fighting back. Members of Congress are joining together to introduce the Put Patients First Act (H.R. 5036; S. 2836). This bill would stop the dangerous refusal of care rule for good.
The Trump-Pence Administration’s final refusal rule would expand the reach of already harmful federal laws. The rule would give sweeping new rights to virtually any individual or entity involved in patient care who thinks their personal beliefs should determine the care a patient receives. Under the rule, even those not directly involved in providing patient care – such as the receptionist that schedules procedures, the individual that cleans surgical instruments, or an ambulance driver – can refuse to do their jobs. The rule also says prospective employers that want to provide comprehensive health care, like Planned Parenthood, may not be able to even ask job applicants about which services they might refuse to provide. This could force the clinic to hire and keep on staff a doctor unwilling to do the very job they were hired to do.
More than 200,000 letters were submitted in opposition, including from members of Congress as well as major medical organizations, health officials, religious groups, and people from across the country. But the Administration ignored all of us when it finalized the rule in May of this year. So we took them to court and we won— two federal judges have said this rule is unlawful and cannot go into effect! Among other things, the court called out the Administration for attempting to justify this harmful rule by citing to a large number of complaints, but this assertion turned out to be, in the court’s words “flatly untrue.”
The court decisions are amazing, but we know that allowing discrimination in health care is a priority of this Administration, and they are likely getting ready to fight back against this loss in court. So our champions in Congress are introducing the Put Patients First Act to say “not on my watch.” The Patients First Act would prevent the Administration from ever implementing the rule. And more than 100 members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Pappas and Rep. Lee, and 30 Senators, led by Senator Murray have sponsored this critical bill. These members of Congress are adding their voice to the chorus insisting that the Administration stop this unlawful attempt to allow personal beliefs to determine patient care.