AG Grewal Joins Multi-State Coalition in Objecting to Federal “Conscience” Rule that Sanctions Discrimination

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has joined a multi-state coalition of Attorneys General in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw a proposed “conscience” rule that would allow health care institutions to deny medically necessary care to patients on the basis of “religious, moral, ethical or other reasons.”

New Jersey receives more than $11 billion in federal health care funding annually – funding that could be terminated under the proposed rule if HHS determines the State has failed, or even “threatened” to fail, to comply with the rule’s requirements. The rule could also preempt New Jersey laws that require the provision of medically necessary health care and that balance respect for religious freedom with the rights of patients.

“New Jersey already has a framework of laws that carefully balance respect for religious freedom with the rights of patients to access health care, and this proposed rule could render us unable to enforce those laws,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This represents yet another coercive, illegal act by the federal government – threatening to withhold needed health care funding in order to force compliance with a rule that undermines our own health care policies and laws, and inevitably will cause harm to some of our most vulnerable residents.”                                    

In written comments submitted to HHS, Grewal and the other participating Attorneys General argue that the proposed rule extends far beyond the existing federal health care statutes it purports to enforce, and also conflicts with existing federal laws concerning emergency health care, religious accommodations and comprehensive family planning services.

The Attorneys General also contend that the rule will lead to “status-based” discrimination against patients, and that it violates both the Establishment Clause and the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“HHS’s dramatic overreach would come at the expense of not only employers and states, but of patients whose access to medically necessary care would be seriously threatened,” the written comments note. “At a time when many Americans are struggling to afford health care, the government can ill afford to implement a rule that is designed to reduce access to health care instead of expanding it.”

The comments also assert that the rule would “needlessly decrease the information patients receive about their health care options, undermining their ability to choose the best options for their own health care and bodies.

“The proposed rule would impose particularly enormous burdens on marginalized patients who already confront discrimination in obtaining health care,” the Attorneys General contend.

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