Civil rights groups sue Trump administration over new religious conscience rule for health providers

A new rule allows providers to deny care to people whose medical needs raise an objection of religion or conscious

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 29, 2019 8:56AM (EDT)

Protests agains the current GOP health care bill (AP/Lynne Sladky)
Protests agains the current GOP health care bill (AP/Lynne Sladky)

President Donald Trump's administration faces a lawsuit over a new rule allowing health care providers to deny care to women, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups whose medical needs raise an objection of religion or conscious.

Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists are among the coalition of civil rights groups who are suing Trump's Department of Health and Human Services over its new rule. In their complaint filed Tuesday, the coalition argued the new Health and Human Services rule violates the basic freedoms of individuals who could face discrimination from religious conservatives.

"Although purporting to implement long-standing healthcare statutes with specific provisions affording protections for the religious or moral beliefs of certain individuals and entities ('religious objections'), the rule instead creates a wholly new regime that elevates religious objections over all other interests and values," the complaint says. "The rule invites a much larger universe of healthcare workers to decline to serve patients based on religious objections, defines with unprecedented breadth the types of activities to which they may object and fails to reconcile objections with the needs and rights of patients — even though doing so is critical in any regulatory scheme administering these laws. And the rule does not include emergency exceptions."

"Earlier this month, HHS issued what we have dubbed 'the denial of care rule,'" Genevieve Scott, senior staff attorney at Center for Reproductive Rights, said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

"It extends not only to doctors and nurses, but even EMTs and administrative staff are encouraged to deny care. The rule is extremely broad and contains no limits on who is at risk of being denied treatment, even for those in need of emergency care," Scott added. "Health care facilities, including hospitals and clinics, are threatened with a loss of federal funding if they do not comply. Many hospitals and clinics rely on government funding to stay open and could not survive this kind of loss."

Scott also pointed out that "the rule is intentionally confusing and unworkable for health care facilities to implement. To avoid potentially violating the rule and losing the funding, many facilities may end up doing away with services that staff might object to — including reproductive health services, like abortion and contraception, and LGBT services. Other facilities may be forced to close."

Lambda Legal, whose mission is to achieve the full civil rights of the LGBT community and individuals living with HIV, expressed similar thoughts.

"Our organizations are jointly representing premiere health care providers and community centers that are dedicated to serving the LGBT community, abortion providers, individual doctors and three national associations of health care professionals and medical students," Jamie Gliksberg, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal's Midwest regional office, said during the call. "These health care providers and community centers are really providers of last resort for their patients and of crucial importance to LGBT people, people living with HIV, patients in need of reproductive health care and public health, generally. The people who go to these organizations for care often have been turned away from other health care providers and have no place left to go."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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