The Trump administration was sued Tuesday by almost two dozen states and cities — including California — over a federal rule allowing businesses and individuals to refuse healthcare services based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
The “conscience rule” will encourage discrimination against women and the LGBT community by limiting access to contraceptive care and abortions as well as services required by transgender Americans, according to complaints filed in federal courts in New York and California.
“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," California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing his lawsuit.
New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James also sued, along with a group of states and cities that include Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Chicago, claiming residents will be put at risk. She said the new rule will allow ambulance drivers, emergency room doctors and customer service representatives at insurance companies to refuse care in violation of patients’ constitutional rights.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said the rule change is needed to protect the religious freedom of employees who may object to some healthcare procedures. It’s part of a broader cultural clash between the religious right, which helped get Trump elected, and progressives who have been challenging his agenda in court.
“The federal government is giving healthcare 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.
The plaintiffs say they risk losing billions of dollars in federal healthcare funding if states and municipalities fail to comply with the change.
Roger Severino, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, said the rule provides enforcement tools for “conscience protection laws” that have been on the books for decades.
“HHS finalized the conscience rule after more than a year of careful consideration and after analyzing over 242,000 public comments,” he said in a statement.
The city of San Francisco sued over the regulation on May 2, hours after President Trump announced it.