Court Sets New Effective Date for HHS ‘Conscience Rule’

July 9, 2019

In a letter filed with a federal judge, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agreed last week to a four-month delay before implementing a new rule that would strengthen protections for health care providers against having to provide services that violate their conscience, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.

Initially set to take effect on July 22, 2019, the regulations – titled “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority” – now have an effective date of November 22, 2019.

As the litigation over the rule goes forward, HHS is expected to ask the courts to make at least a preliminary decision in the pending cases by November 22, 2019.

As outlined in our May 16 alert, the regulations outlined in the 440-page Final Rule are far reaching and all inclusive, protecting individuals who are employed by covered entities and who do not want to provide health care services or assist in the provision of health care services to which the individual has a moral or religious objection.

Multiple Lawsuits 

On May 21, 2019, almost two dozen states, the City of New York, the City of Chicago, and Cook County Illinois, filed a complaint against HHS in the U.S.District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging the Rule. The states that have sued include Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania. On June 11, two additional challenges were filed in the Southern District of New York by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. 

Also, on May 28, 2019, a suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists and the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights. Additional Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the County of Santa Clara and Los Angeles LGBT Center. 

New Effective Date

On June 28, 2019, HHS and the plaintiffs in the three New York suits submitted a letter to U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer requesting that he enter a consent order postponing the effective date of the Rule until November 22, 2019.

On July 2, 2019, Judge Engelmayer entered the order postponing the effective date of the Rule until November 22, 2019. A similar order was entered by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in the pending California case in response to a request by HHS.