Attorney General James Leads Multistate Coalition Calling on Trump Administration to Halt Anti-Abortion Rule as Coronavirus Pandemic Rages On

AG James Fights to Stop Attack on Reproductive Health Care That Would
Raise Abortion Costs and Place Onerous Requirements on Women

New Trump Administration Rule Diverts Resources Away from “Mission-Critical”
Effort to Stop Coronavirus Spread in Contradiction of Federal Directive

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today continued her leadership in the national fight to ensure women’s reproductive health care is not stifled or infringed upon in any way during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019) public health crisis. Attorney General James is co-leading a multistate coalition of eight attorneys general in asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to delay implementation of a final rule that would unlawfully reinterpret Section 1303 of the ACA by requiring qualified health plans that participate in the state exchanges — like the New York State of Health — to send separate bills and collect separate payments of at least one-dollar for abortion services to all consumers. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Attorney General James and the coalition argue against final implementation of the rule that threatens women’s access to abortion coverage, as well as jeopardizes health coverage of all consumers confused by the billing practice as the nation responds to a public health crisis requiring every resource of the federal government focused on battling COVID-19.

“At a time when states and the federal government must use every resource as efficiently as possible, it is utterly reckless for the Trump Administration to continue to divert means away from responding to this pandemic just so they can further restrict women’s reproductive rights,” said Attorney General James. “This rule not only stands in direct contrast to federal directives issued by the Administration, but specifically threatens to kick individuals off their health plans as we battle a public health crisis, endangering us all. But the origin of this rule is no doubt rooted in the president’s anti-choice ideology that aims to take us backwards almost half a century, which is why our coalition will never stop fighting against this burdensome and controlling regulation that strips women of their constitutional right to an abortion.”

In their letter to Secretary Azar today, Attorney General James and the coalition argue that “implementation of the final rule during this public health and economic crisis is irresponsible and harmful to the residents of the States and the rest of the country, as it will divert attention and resources from fighting the pandemic and saving lives.”

Moreover, any effort by HHS to implement the final rule in the coming months would be inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget Directive M-20-16 — issued just three weeks ago — instructing federal agency heads to “prioritize all resources to slow the transmission of COVID-19” and otherwise focus exclusively on “mission-critical activities.”

The attorneys general go on to argue in their letter, “There is no plausible argument that implementation or enforcement of the Final Rule, which puts at risk consumers’ health coverage, would slow the transmission of COVID-19; nor can implementation of separate billing procedures be considered mission-critical,” continuing, “HHS unnecessarily detracts from the States’ abilities to prioritize responding to the national crisis of COVID-19, and contravenes the White House’s Directive.”

The attorneys general additionally argue that implementing this final rule would impose additional financial burdens on state agencies. “HHS itself recognized that implementation of the Final Rule will have significant economic consequences,” costing approximately $385 million in one-time costs for insurance issuers in the nation to bring all affected issuers across the country “into compliance with the Final Rule and implement the necessary technical changes.”

Under New York law, all private health plans regulated by the state are required to offer abortion coverage as part of their basic health care services. The new Trump Administration rule, however, will require consumers to return premium payments in two separate transactions, otherwise risk jeopardizing their health care coverage because issuers are forced to issue separate bills in order to segregate funds attributed to abortion care. HHS itself has conceded that requiring separate bills and separate payments will inevitably lead to confusion for the more than 260,000 New Yorkers that have already enrolled in a qualified health plan this year. Additionally, the rule burdens states with unnecessary administrative costs and harms consumers who may face higher insurance premiums as a result of increased costs to carriers. 

Last week, the coalition also filed a motion for summary judgment in this lawsuit, calling for the courts to immediately vacate the rule because it violates federal law and is inconsistent with the Affordable Care Act.

Today’s action is just the latest in a long list of measures Attorney General James has taken to protect women’s reproductive freedom since taking office. Last week, Attorney General James led a multistate coalition of attorneys general from around the nation in filing an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, after the State of Texas issued a directive banning nearly all abortion services in the state, using the coronavirus as an excuse.

Also, last week, Attorney General James sent a letter to both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requesting that the Trump Administration waive or utilize its discretion not to enforce its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) designation, which dictates and subsequently impedes women’s access to the medical-abortion prescription drug known as Mifepristone. The attorneys general called on the Trump Administration to ensure that women across the country can more easily access this critical health care service while the pandemic leaves many women unable to seek in-person care.

Earlier in March, Attorney General James called on the federal government and states across the country to ensure women’s access to safe, legal abortions are not jeopardized or curtailed as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

In January, Attorney General James filed an amicus brief, in Reproductive Health Services v. Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, challenging the constitutionality of several recently enacted abortion bans in the State of Missouri.  

Also in January, Attorney General James secured a victory for women in Rochester seeking to have an abortion without being harassed, threatened, or blocked before entering a clinic when a district court judge dismissed a lawsuit by anti-abortion activists seeking to bypass a 15-foot “buffer zone” outside a local Planned Parenthood facility.

Even earlier in January, Attorney General James filed a multistate amicus brief in support of a lawsuit that seeks to protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion care without the burdensome restrictions imposed by Arkansas laws. The brief — filed in support of the plaintiffs in Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Leslie Rutledge, now before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals — supports the last surgical abortion clinic in Arkansas as it challenges four state laws that would restrict the ability for women in Arkansas to access abortions by banning abortions after 18 weeks and otherwise restricting women’s access to reproductive care. 

In December 2019, Attorney General James filed an amicus brief defending the right to maintain full and equal access to birth control guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act for tens of thousands of women nationwide

Also, in December 2019, Attorney General James led a multistate amicus brief in support of a challenge by petitioners in the case June Medical Services v. Gee — now pending in the U.S. Supreme Court — challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

In October 2019, Attorney General James filed a multistate amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Jackson Women’s Health Organization against the State of Mississippi, challenging a law that would prohibit abortions after as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

In September 2019, Attorney General James led a multistate amicus brief in support of a challenge filed by Kentucky clinics and physicians, challenging a Kentucky law that would ban physicians from providing second-trimester abortion services using the most common and safest procedure available for women after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In August 2019, Attorney General James filed a multistate amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance against the State of Indiana after the state denied the clinics application for a license to open an abortion clinic that would provide medical abortions in South Bend.

In March 2019, Attorney General James co-led a coalition of 21 states in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s regulations that threaten essential services provided under federal Title X funding. The rule — also known as the “gag rule” — places an unlawful and unethical restriction on health care providers’ ability to fully inform patients of the reproductive health services available to them by disallowing referrals for abortions and restricting counseling related to abortions. Another provision would require those who perform abortions to physically segregate their services — an expensive and potentially impossible requirement.

Finally, Attorney General James is litigating the appeal in People ex rel. James v. Griepp to ensure that women who enter the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens are not harassed, obstructed, or threatened by protestors.

Joining Attorney General James in sending today’s letter to HHS are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.