Civil rights groups sue Trump administration over 'conscience protection' rule

Civil rights groups sue Trump administration over 'conscience protection' rule
© Getty Images

A coalition of civil rights groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, asking a federal judge to strike down a recently issued "conscience protection" rule that allows health care providers to refuse to provide care on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The suit, filed in coordination with Santa Clara County in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, argues the rule is unconstitutional.

According to the groups, which include Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the rule will result in "mass confusion among health care providers and is completely infeasible to implement." 

ADVERTISEMENT

As a result, they argue, health care facilities may do away with reproductive and LGBTQ services altogether, leaving millions without access to critical health care.

Tuesday’s lawsuit is the latest challenge to the rule, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE personally announced earlier this month during the National Day of Prayer.

A coalition led by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a similar lawsuit last week, as did California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver Microsoft to follow landmark California privacy law nationwide MORE (D). The city of San Francisco is also suing.

The rule expressly singles out transgender people, and “invites religious and moral objections to treating transgender patients,” said Jamie Gliksberg, senior attorney at Lambda Legal.

“This rule erodes trust between patients and providers,” Gliksberg said. “Health care providers should not be encouraged to toy with whether to provide life-saving care.”

The rule is scheduled to take effect on July 22. Its proponents say it aims to protect health care workers and institutions from having to violate their religious or moral beliefs by participating in abortions, providing contraception, sterilization or other procedures.

According to the complaint, however, the rule “endangers patients’ health in the name of advancing the religious beliefs of those who are entrusted with caring for them — a result sharply at odds with the stated mission of the Department of Health and Human Services.”

The complaint alleges the rule “infringes the constitutional rights of patients by impermissibly advancing the religious beliefs of individual employees over the constitutional rights of patients, including patients’ rights to liberty and privacy guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.”

The rule is part of a recent string of policies from the Trump administration that favor religious conservatives. Last week, the administration proposed a policy that would roll back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ patients.

The administration is also attempting to stop providers receiving federal family planning grants from referring women for abortions. That proposal was recently blocked in federal court.