A number of states and municipalities are suing the federal government in an attempt to prevent the enacting of a new rule that would allow clinicians to refuse abortions on religious grounds.
The sprawling lawsuit, lodged in Manhattan, requested that the judge rules the provision unconstitutional and demanded that it be blocked immediately. The Department of Health and Human Services insists, however, that the law means that doctors are not forced to go against their religion and good conscience in providing the option to end life.
Of those who have launched a legal challenge against the law, San Francisco was the quickest to the docket — the city issued legal proceedings just hours after President Trump announced the new law in the White House Rose Garden on May 2.
The provision is set to come into force in July.
Though lawyers representing the federal government have yet to comment on the massive, multi-state lawsuit, New York Attorney General Letitia James insisted that the challenge aims to stop the federal government from “giving health care providers free license to openly discriminate and refuse care to patients,” according to Fox News.
James added that the new rule was a “gross misinterpretation of religious freedom that will have devastating consequences on communities throughout the country.”
The Trump administration’s provision issues protections to the religious freedoms of physicians that go far and beyond abortion itself, stretching to issues of assisted suicide and even sterilization.
The rule prevents “providers, individuals, and other health care entities from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide,” according to the 440-page text entitled “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care.”
“Currently, as with every other civil rights statute, we require that entities that receive grants from HHS will not discriminate on the basis [of race or gender],” Roger Severino, head of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Severino, told BuzzFeed News. “To that we are adding religious belief and conscience … Saying you are going to comply is a contract with the government.”
Severino added that if it can be proved that a service provider violated the new rule, they could lose their federal funding with immediate effect.
The HHS official emphasized the importance of issues relating to religious freedom in the arena of contentious medical care. Under the Obama administration, and without any conscience protections, he said that there was just a handful of complaints lodged. However, since the introduction of the OCR’s Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, officials have received over 300.
Clearly, when there is a system available through which physicians can object, many are keen to highlight their protestation against having to violate their personal and religious beliefs while discharging their professional duties.
“It shows it’s a real problem out there,” Severino said. “Some doctors said they felt threatened from becoming an OBGYN, felt they would be forced to perform abortions.”
The full list of states and municipalities suing the federal government over this provision is as follows: 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; and Wisconsin.
Faith-based clinic also suing HHS
In other areas of the abortion-providing apparatus, fears are high as the courts continue to insist that Title X rules must not prohibit family-planning clinics from suggesting abortion as an option.
This has caused one faith-based clinic to sue HHS, complaining that it cannot, in good conscience, provide those referral services to its patients. This means that, under the current rules, the clinic cannot administer
the $5 million in family planning funds that it has been allocated by the federal government via the Title X program.
The group of clinics, “Obria,” aim to be an alternative to Planned Parenthood and seek to “provide life-affirming care for all,” according to their website.
“Obria and its clinics are now put to a Hobson’s choice,” the lawsuit states, according to Politico.
“They may either accept the money — which would mean accepting the abortion referral requirement to which they have deep religious objections — or they can decline to do so, meaning that the funds will be forfeited and Obria clinics will be unable to provide much-needed healthcare to needy women across California.”
The group insists that the current rules are in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.