Attorney General Cuomo Sues Bush Over 11th-hour Regulations That Threaten Vital Health Services For Sexual Assault Victims, Ny Women

 

NEW YORK, NY (January 16, 2009) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today joined a lawsuit in federal court challenging regulations that would permit health care providers to deny a broad range of reproductive health services to women, including victims of rape and sexual assault. The regulations, referred to as the “Provider Conscience” rules, were thrown into effect at the last-minute by the Bush Administration and threaten to undermine New York State’s current laws, which offer some of the strongest protections in the nation for women and victims of sexual assault.

The new regulations are allegedly designed to ensure that health care providers are not discriminated against based on religious or moral belief - a kind of discrimination already explicitly prohibited in New York. Instead, these rules effectively operate to deny women access to a broad range of basic health care and family planning services, even if prescribed by a primary care physician. Under the regulations, any healthcare worker may refuse not only to participate in a procedure they find morally objective, but may refuse to offer information about these procedures to patients who may desire or require them, without giving their employer notice of their objections.

New York State has struck a solid balance between protecting the reproductive rights of women and the personal beliefs of healthcare providers,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “These new regulations would undermine those protections and our commitment to ensuring that women, especially victims of rape or sexual assault, have access to the services and information they need to safeguard their help. This is a parting gift from the Bush Administration that New York State doesn’t need and will not accept.”

Governor David A. Paterson said, “The promulgation of these extremely troubling regulations by the Bush Administration on the eve of its departure represents a disturbing attack on the rights of women to access lawful health care.  In joining other states and advocacy organizations that are suing to overturn these regulations, New York affirms that it will not remain silent in the face of such interference.  I commend Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for his dedicated and capable representation of New Yorkers in this matter.”

New York State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said, “The rule issued last month disrupts the balance between the rights of patients and their providers, obstructs access to timely medical treatment and lawful health services, and diverts funding from patient care.  Overturning this rule is crucial.”

In the lawsuit filed today Attorney General Cuomo alleges that these regulations unlawfully extend beyond their intended purpose. Under the guise of preserving the already-protected rights of healthcare providers, the ambiguous rules extend into vital health services across the state. The sweeping regulations threaten to limit access to abortions, emergency contraceptives, basic birth control and even information regarding their options for care.  In addition, they put New York at risk of losing billions of dollars in federal health care funds simply by enforcing state laws ensuring access to family planning services and information.

New York State has uniquely powerful laws preserving the balance between offering these services and protecting the rights of healthcare providers. The State’s civil rights law expressly allows providers to refuse to participate in procedures that go against their conscience or religious beliefs, and make it unlawful for any employer to discriminate against a provider based on these beliefs.

At the same time, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act (WHWA), one of the first contraceptive equity statutes in the country, requires employers who offer insurance coverage for prescription drugs to offer coverage for contraception. New York Public Health Law also protects the rights of rape survivors by ensuring that victims receive accurate information about emergency contraception and its availability, use, and efficacy.  The law requires that a hospital providing emergency treatment to a rape survivor furnish her with this information regarding her rights and health care options, both orally and in writing, and requires that the hospital provide emergency contraception to the victim upon her request.  The Provider Conscience regulations would likely make it impossible for New York to enforce these laws and adequately protect the rights of sexual assault victims.

Furthermore, Attorney General Cuomo noted, failure to comply with these laws could result in the loss of vital federal funding not only for the State, but for health clinics, pharmacies, and other medical providers, thereby having a chilling effect on those who provide women legal health services and information and inhibiting the ability of the State to enforce its laws regarding access to family planning services.

M. Tracey Brooks, President and CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York, said, “We applaud New York Attorney General Cuomo for standing up for the rights of women and families in filing this action challenging the so-called Provider Conscience regulations. These regulations not only are unlawful, but they jeopardize the rights of New Yorkers to legal family planning services and may deprive victims of rape and sexual assault to the information about their right to emergency contraception to protect their health and well-being.  The Attorney General’s commitment to preventing these harmful regulations from being implemented is a true service to the people of New York.”

This case is being handled by Spencer Freedman, Counsel for Civil Rights, Alphonso B. David, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau, and Kayla Gassman, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Bureau.

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