News Law and Policy

Trump’s HHS Goes After Hawaii for Fake Clinic Regulation

Nicole Knight

The HHS investigation comes as the agency's Office of Civil Rights is taking steps to open a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, or health-care discrimination wing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is poised to investigate the state of Hawaii on behalf of a fake clinic, one that Rewire.News reported last year was slapped with a cease-and-desist letter.

The HHS investigation comes in response to a complaint filed by the religious litigation mill, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), on behalf of A Place for Women in Waipio, according to a statement from ADF.

Michael Leoz, regional manager of the HHS Office of Civil Rights, said in a letter last month to an ADF attorney that the department will investigate Hawaii for potential violations of federal law, including the Weldon Amendment. The amendment prohibits entities that receive federal dollars from discriminating against organizations that don’t refer patients to abortion care providers, among other provisions.

A Place for Women in Waipio and its attorneys sued last year to block a Hawaii law that requires anti-choice fake clinics, which often use misinformation to dissuade patients from seeking abortion care, to inform pregnant people of the availability of comprehensive family planning services. The facility claimed the law violated its First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, as Rewire.News reported.

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ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves said in a statement that “states that require pro-life doctors and staff to act contrary to their conscience don’t qualify for federal funds.”

James W. Walther, special assistant to the Hawaii attorney general, told Rewire.News that the office “will not speculate about the future application of Hawaii’s law. We have conveyed this message to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights.”

Earlier, an attorney for a former patient of A Place for Women in Waipio sent the facility a cease-and-desist letter to stop a clinic staff member from disclosing the patient’s personal information, as Rewire.News reported. The patient had testified in favor of the legislation to regulate such facilities. Staff at A Place for Women then attempted to share her information with lawmakers at a hearing.

The HHS investigation comes as the agency’s Office of Civil Rights is taking steps to open a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, or health-care discrimination wing. The division is a precursor to an imminent rule expected to bolster religious imposition measures.

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide whether a California law similar to Hawaii’s law violates the rights of fake clinics in California. The California plaintiffs argued the law forces them to convey a “pro-abortion” message, but a lower court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. Now it’s up to the high court to decide.

Hawaii lawmakers passed the pregnancy center legislation last year after hearing reports that some facilities dispensed inaccurate information and shared pregnant people’s personal information with outside parties.

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