By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits offering family planning services sued the Trump administration on Tuesday to block a new federal rule letting healthcare workers refuse abortions and other services because of religious or moral objections.
The two lawsuits filed in Manhattan federal court said enforcing the “conscience” rule would encourage discrimination against women, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people by curbing access to legal healthcare procedures, including life-saving treatments.
They also said the rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and scheduled to take effect on July 22, would impose heavy costs on healthcare providers dependent on federal funding, which they could lose by refusing to comply.
The plaintiffs also include Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Inc, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Public Health Solutions Inc. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the latter two nonprofits.
“Trust is the cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship,” Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “No one should have to worry if they will get the right care or information because of their providers’ personal beliefs.”
HHS pledged to defend the rule vigorously. Planned Parenthood said the rule might affect more than 613,000 hospitals, health clinics, doctors’ offices and nonprofits.
The lawsuits escalate the legal battles over a rule announced on May 2 by Republican President Donald Trump, who has made expanding religious liberty a priority, in a Rose Garden speech marking the National Day of Prayer.
They were filed after California, New York, New York City, Chicago and 20 other mostly Democratic-controlled or Democratic-leaning states and municipalities sued the government on May 21 over the rule. San Francisco filed its own lawsuit on May 2.
HHS has said the rule protects the rights of workers who might oppose particular procedures, such as sterilizations and assisted suicides.
It has also said the rule requires compliance with roughly 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights, some of which date back decades.
Roger Severino, director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, on Tuesday repeated his May 21 statement that the rule “gives life and enforcement tools” to those laws.
The cases are Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc et al v Azar et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-05433; and National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association et al v Azar et al in the same court, No. 19-05435.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Chang)