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More than 200,000 People Submit Comments to HHS in Opposition to Rule on Last Day of Comment Period

Rule would give almost any health care worker — from pharmacists to volunteers — license to deny patients access to abortion and other reproductive and sexual health services, LGBTQ people health services, or any other service the health care worker deems divergent to their personal beliefs.

WASHINGTON D.C - Today, over 200,000 people submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to oppose the Trump-Pence administration’s proposed refusal of care rule, which would embolden health care workers to deny health care to patientsTuesday marks the end of the public comment period.

The rule has been denounced by medical providers and professionals, including the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Nurses Associationthe American Academy of Nursing, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), due to the harm it would cause patients. The proposed rule would worsen existing barriers to care. It is unprecedented in its expansive approach, giving any health care worker — from pharmacists to volunteers — license to deny patients access to abortion and other reproductive and sexual health services, deny LGBTQ people potentially life-saving health care, or deny any other service the health care worker deems divergent to their personal beliefs. 

Statement from Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

This rule is a blatant license to discriminate. As health care providers, we’ve seen what these kinds of laws can do: People are denied care or forced to travel to another provider  just to seek medical care, including safe, legal abortion. With this rule, the Trump-Pence administration intends to create a world where even more people are denied essential health care. Hundreds of thousands of people are speaking out on this rule today, because if it goes into effect fewer people will be able to access care and their health will suffer.

This rule could have far reaching implications and exacerbate the denial to care that already happen. Examples of what this rule seems intended to allow:

  • A pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for birth control or antidepressants, or refuse to administer a vaccine simply because of their own personal beliefs
  • A hospital administrator could cancel a woman’s life-saving treatment for cancer because it might harm her pregnancy
  • A transgender patient could be denied hormone therapy or be unable to get emergency medical care because their provider refuses to provide this care

Some of people’s comments highlight the impact of the rule.

Melissa in Arizona said, “As a mother and a Lesbian, I am fearful that this could directly impact me and my children...to take your child in for treatment and then have a medical professional either purposely not care for your child or delay treatment which could harm your child (or oneself) because of their personal beliefs is completely against their medical licensing and inhumane!”

Wendy in Florida said, “In 1991, new to Florida, I sought the morning after pill for a broken condom. I was told by a health care worker at the local county hospital that “we don’t do that here." It turned out that was a lie, and I got the help I needed from Planned Parenthood…that day, in 1991, a total stranger put her moral judgement above my rights, and the best interests of me and my eventual family. Cases like this cannot become the law of the land. These are deeply personal decisions that must be made by families and women themselves.”

Rebecca in Maine said,“Years ago, my daughter was denied birth control from a pharmacist who didn't care for the fact that she wasn't married. It was prescribed by her [doctor] for painful periods, but that shouldn't matter, one way or the other. It was ridiculous, unconscionable, and discriminatory.”

HHS has outlined a number of scenarios in which a health care worker could deny care, including performing, participating in, or referring for abortion, sterilization, or other health services. Women already experience barriers to accessing comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion. According to a recent report, half of women of reproductive age would have to travel between 10 to 79 miles to access an abortion in the United States. Some women have to travel 180 miles or more to access an abortion. This proposed rule will create more barriers to accessing, safe legal abortion. The proposed rule could also be used to allow the denial of other services, including birth control. Birth control is basic preventive health care for women — nearly nine in 10 women of reproductive age have used birth control at some point in their lives for a wide variety of health care reasons, including endometriosis, migraines, premenstrual pain, and menstrual regulation.

According to a recently released report, women of color are more likely than white women to receive restricted reproductive health care, namely because hospitals in their neighborhoods are more likely to be governed by the ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services. This is even more pronounced in certain states — for instance, in Maryland, 75 percent of the births in Catholic hospitals are women of color; in New Jersey, women of color make up 80 percent of the births in Catholic hospitals. Denying them health care results in real harm. A woman in a Catholic hospital nearly died because the hospital refused to treat her miscarriage. The treating physician reportedly said that the “‘woman [wa]s dying before our eyes,’’ but the hospital’s religious directives forbid appropriate treatment.“

At the same time, discrimination in health care also already prevents LGBTQ people from accessing care. In 2015, according to the U.S. Transgender Survey, 33 percent of respondents who sought health care in the last year experienced mistreatment, including violence, because they were transgender — and nearly one-quarter avoided seeking health care when they needed it out of fear of discrimination. Nearly one-third of transgender people surveyed said a doctor or health care provider refused to treat them due to their gender identity.

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Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.