Enactment of federal ruling restricting LGBTQ medical access pushed back


A Trump administration rule that would allow medical professionals to refuse care based on religious or moral objections will no longer go into effect July 22.

It has been pushed to at least Nov. 22. following a legal battle brought on by several LGBTQ health centers and other medical organizations across the country in the lawsuit County of Santa Clara v. Azar. Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center are plaintiffs. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced June 29 it would wait to implement the law, which plaintiffs call the “denial of care” rule. A July 1 court order put the delay into effect. 

Plaintiffs in the case are represented by Lambda Legal, Center for Reproductive Rights Americans United for Separation of Church and State and pro bono representatives from international law firm Mayer Brown LLP.

The lawsuit was filed May 28 in Northern District of California court. A motion for a preliminary injunction of the rule calling on the court to prohibit the national department from enacting the rule was filed June 11. 

In response, the administration agreed to push back the rule’s inauguration. This provides time for the lawsuit to be heard in court, said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.

“LGBT people deserve a high quality of health and this rule would…invite health care professionals to discriminate against our community,” he added. “Had this rule been able to go into effect immediately while the case is being heard, it would cause immediate harm for LGBT consumers of healthcare.”

The rule would allow medical professionals to deny services including abortion, fertility treatment and accessing PrEP — care that members of the LGBTQ often rely on, Shanker said. 

The court intends to hear and rule on all motions in the case by Nov. 22, said Jamie Gliksberg, senior attorney at Lambda Legal. The government’s motion for summary judgment is due to the court Aug. 21. Plaintiffs are to submit responses and cross motions by Sept. 12. A hearing is scheduled for Oct.30, allowing time for the court to make a ruling by the enactment deadline. 

Gliksberg said in a statement it is “impossible to exaggerate” the extent of the harm the legal ruling would produce. 

“It will cause denials of medically-necessary care to transgender patients in their most vulnerable moments of need, resulting in increased harms to patients’ health and well-being as well as harms to public health at large,” she added. “Without even an emergency exception to protect patients in need of life-saving health care, the negative impacts of the Denial of Care Rule are literally fatal. We are fighting to stop this discriminatory and unconstitutional Denial of Care Rule from ever taking effect to protect the already marginalized communities and health care providers that are targeted by the rule.”

In a July 2 statement, Americans United, Lambda Legal, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the County of Santa Clara said the rule unfairly targets LGBTQ people and women seeking reproductive health care. They added it is “unconstitutional and we are ready to take on the Trump administration in this fight.”

“As we know from the firsthand accounts of our plaintiffs – health care providers who are on the front lines every day caring for patients – discrimination in health care is dangerous and lives are truly at stake,” the statement reads. “Confronted with these facts and the flurry of lawsuits showing how the Denial of Care Rule would irreparably harm health care providers and patients across the country, the Trump administration agreed to delay implementation.”

The “conscience rule” was first proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services in January 2018. At this time, the department also created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its civil rights office.

Shanker said that in the meantime organizations like Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center will continue to provide health services to the LGBTQ community and refer people to quality medical care. 

“The long-term goal is health equity,” he added. “But right now we’re making sure that the Trump administration’s proposed denial of care rule cannot cause harm for the LGBT patient population.”