States file lawsuit over rule allowing workers in health care to refuse abortion services

Nearly two dozen states and municipalities are suing the U.S. government to stop a new rule that allows health-care providers to object to providing services that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs.

Ambulance drivers, receptionists and customer service reps for insurance firms added to list

Frances Fisher, an actor from Titanic and the upcoming HBO series Watchmen, speaks during a protest Tuesday in Atlanta against recently passed abortion ban bill. Several states are suing the U.S. federal government in an attempt to block a rule that allows health-care providers not to provide services, including abortions, because of their religious beliefs. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Nearly two dozen states and municipalities are suing the U.S. government to stop a new rule that lets health-care clinicians decline to provide abortions and other services that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs.

The lawsuit in Manhattan, N.Y., federal court asks a judge to declare the rule unconstitutional and say it was passed in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

The rule was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and is scheduled to take effect in July. San Francisco had previously filed a similar action.

The department has said the rule requires hospitals, universities, clinics and other entities that receive federal funding to certify compliance with some 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights.

Most laws pertain to medical procedures such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.

Protecting rights in medical field

The department has previously said that past administrations haven't done enough to protect such rights in the medical field.

The lawsuit is being brought by:

  • Colorado.
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware.
  • The District of Columbia.
  • Hawaii.
  • Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois.
  • Maryland.
  • Massachusetts.
  • Michigan.
  • Minnesota.
  • Nevada.
  • New Jersey.
  • New Mexico.
  • New York City and state.
  • Oregon.
  • Pennsylvania.
  • Rhode Island.
  • Vermont.
  • Virginia.
  • Wisconsin.

A spokesperson for federal government lawyers declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The City of San Francisco sued over the regulation on May 2, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump announced it during a White House Rose Garden speech marking the National Day of Prayer, an event where people of all faiths are invited to pray together.

New York Attorney General Letitia James described the rule for health-care providers as a 'gross misinterpretation of religious freedom.' (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

New York Attorney General Letitia James said the new lawsuit is meant to stop the federal government from "giving health-care providers free licence to openly discriminate and refuse care to patients."

She called it a "gross misinterpretation of religious freedom that will have devastating consequences on communities throughout the country."

According to the lawsuit, the rule drastically expands the number of health providers who can refuse to provide services — from ambulance drivers to receptionists and customer service representatives at insurance companies.

The lawsuit said the rule conflicts with various state laws requiring health-care professionals to carry out certain actions even if they cannot comply with some health-care directives for reasons of conscience.