Trump administration delays implementation of 'conscience protection' rule

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is delaying the implementation of its “conscience protection” rule until November to give the administration more time to deal with a lawsuit over the policy.

HHS announced in a court filing Saturday that the rule, which was originally scheduled to take effect July 22, would not be implemented until Nov. 22 at the earliest.

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A coalition of Democratic-led states filed a lawsuit against the administration in May saying the policy, which would allow health care providers to refuse to provide services on the basis of their religious beliefs, is unconstitutional.

“The federal government is giving health care 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,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said in a statement after filing the suit.

Another coalition, which includes Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a suit with Santa Clara County, arguing that the rule will result in “mass confusion among health care providers and is completely infeasible to implement” and could lead to health care facilities scrapping their reproductive and LGBTQ services altogether.

California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCalifornia leads states in lawsuit over Trump public charge rule Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs California counties file first lawsuit over Trump 'public charge' rule MORE (D) and the city of San Francisco have also filed suits.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE announced the policy in May, which proponents say would protect health care workers and institutions from having to violate their religious or moral beliefs by participating in abortions, providing contraception sterilization, or performing other procedures. 

"And just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities. They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time," Trump said during a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer.

HHS says the rule does not create any new laws but enforces about 25 existing federal laws that protect conscience rights.