Several nonprofits, including abortion giant Planned Parenthood, filed two lawsuits in Manhattan federal court Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s recently announced conscience rule that allows healthcare workers to abstain from participating in abortions or providing other services due to moral or religious objections.
The lawsuits, cited by Reuters, argue that the new rule that takes effect on July 22, will encourage discrimination against women, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and members of the LGBT community.
“Trust is the cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship,” Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “No one should have to worry if they will get the right care or information because of their providers’ personal beliefs.”
The conscience protection rule was praised by conservatives and religious freedom advocates.
“We need more health care in this country — not less. We all win if nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals can heal others without fear of being forced from their life’s work because of their religious beliefs,” Becket Executive Director Montse Alvarado said at the time.
Also listed among the plaintiffs of the lawsuits are the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Public Health Solutions Inc., which are represented by The American Civil Liberties Union.
“The ACLU will not stand by as our government institutes policy that could endanger people’s lives” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU said in a statement Tuesday. “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it cannot be used to harm others — especially when that includes withholding emergency care or critical information about patients’ health.”
Roger Severino, director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, who announced the rule on May 7 at the National Day of Prayer, said the “conscience” rule protects healthcare professionals from being “bullied” out of their field because they object to abortion or other actions that conflict with their faith.
“Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” Severino said. “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Severino concluded.
Under the rule, which the HHS has pledged to defend, healthcare providers that depend on federal funding could lose those funds if they refuse to comply. Planned Parenthood estimates the rule could affect more than 613,000 hospitals, health clinics, doctors’ offices and nonprofits.
The rule has previously faced legal challenge from others like New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading a coalition of 23 cities and states in a lawsuit filed over the rule in May.
“Personal views do not give people the right to withhold critical health care or endanger others’ lives,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday. “Patients should be able to trust that they’re getting the health care they need, regardless of religion or politics.”