The Center for Reproductive Rights v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

10.15.2019

Primary Content

(REVISED 4.24.2020) This lawsuit was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for failing to produce records related to the Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) operations and enforcement of civil rights laws.

The complaint was filed after two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests went effectively unanswered and is critical in revealing shifts in OCR’s priorities that harm the office’s efforts to combat discrimination and protect patient privacy. 

In 2018 the Trump administration created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) within OCR purportedly to enforce religious and moral refusal laws. While the stated rationale for the establishing this division was to handle an increase in religious and moral refusal complaints, historically only an extremely small fraction of the complaints received by OCR are related to these issues. Despite this, HHS sought to increase CRFD’s budget by over $1 million in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020, while simultaneously reducing overall funding for OCR.

On August 30, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking budget and staffing details of the CRFD and information related to OCR’s HIPPA enforcement activities. Although a 2009 law enacted by the Obama administration specifies that any funds collected as a result of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) violations must be used to enforce health data privacy and security regulations, suspicion has been growing regarding the funds’ distribution

Plaintiff(s): The Center for Reproductive Rights

Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll

Summary:  On October 15, 2019, the Center filed a FOIA lawsuit in federal court in DC to compel the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to respond to two outstanding requests for documents related to the budget and staffing for the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) of the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and information related to OCR’s HIPPA enforcement activities.

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