Two dozen states and cities are suing the Trump administration over new rules that allow insurance companies, healthcare providers, and employers to refuse to cover procedures that they say conflict with their conscience because of their religious beliefs.
The plaintiffs in the suit include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin, Chicago, both the city and state of New York, and Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit is led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who says that the rule will place the personal views of healthcare workers over the safety of patients “at a dangerous price” for the healthcare system as a whole.
“The federal government is giving health care providers free license to openly discriminate and refuse care to patients—a gross misinterpretation of religious freedom that will have devastating consequences on communities throughout the country,” James said in a statement.
In another lawsuit, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the rule “impedes access to basic care” and “encourages discrimination against vulnerable patients,” like those in the LGBTQ community.
“A war is being waged on access to health care across our country from Alabama to Texas to Washington D.C., where once again the president and vice president are issuing illegal rules that use health care as a political weapon while risking American lives,” Becerra said in a statement after announcing the suit.
The new rule created by the Department of Health and Human Services was announced by the Trump administration earlier this month and finally published this Tuesday in the Federal Register. It allows healthcare providers, employers, and insurers to refrain from performing or paying for procedures to which they have a religious objection. These procedures could include abortion, assisted dying, or gender confirmation surgery. It also allows new freedom for parents to refuse care for their children.
The lawsuit warns that the rule could severely disrupt the ability of patients to receive necessary healthcare.
“If a woman arrives at the emergency room of one of Plaintiffs’ institutions presenting with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, the Final Rule would permit a wide swath of employees—from receptionists to nurses to doctors to pharmacists to anesthesiologists—to refuse to assist that patient in real time, and without any advance notice, no matter the intense medical risk to the patient,” the complaint filed by James reads.
The lawsuit alleges that the rule puts billions of dollars of healthcare funding at risk, and could harm hospitals and other facilities by forcing them to hire more staff in case their employees refuse to provide certain procedures to patients. The lawsuit states that the rule could “[undermine] longstanding efforts by those institutions to build trust with the patient communities they serve.”
The suit also alleges that the rule violates federal laws, including civil rights laws and those governing Medicare and Medicaid.
“HHS finalized the conscience rule after more than a year of careful consideration and after analyzing over 242,000 public comments,” Roger Severino, director of the HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement.
The rule will take effect in July, if it isn’t stopped by the numerous legal challenges.