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California Files Lawsuit Against the Trump Administration’s “Conscience” Rule

"Health-care providers are sworn to put patients first and to do no harm," said Christine Keeves.


Many critics are attacking the Trump administration’s “conscience” rule that allows medical and healthcare workers to refuse treatment to people, even in case of emergencies. It includes discrimination against the LGBT community and women, which could result in some health providers denying lifesaving care.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its final “conscience” rule.

The agency said it follows Trump’s May 2017 executive order and his pledge “to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty.”

The HHS said the final rule has replaced a 2011 policy that has proven inadequate. The agency said, “These laws protect health-care providers and workers from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.”

However, last week, California filed a lawsuit calling the “conscience” rule unconstitutional and charging it “would increase discrimination in health care.” Moreover, the city of San Francisco has claimed that the rule will increase the risk of losing around $1 billion in federal funds if it refuses to comply with the rule.

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The city declared in its complaint, “While San Francisco complies with the laws passed by Congress, the final rule would result in immediate injury to San Francisco.”

It said the “conscience” rule requires the city and county to prioritize providers’ religious beliefs over the health and lives of LGBT people, as well as other medically and socially vulnerable people.

Also, the lawsuit said, “San Francisco recognizes and respects that an individual’s religious beliefs, cultural values, and ethics may make that person reluctant to participate in any aspect of patient care.”

It added, “But while the city supports the legitimate conscience rights of individual health care professions, the exercise of these rights must be balanced against the fundamental obligations of the medical profession and the right of patients to receive quality patient care.”

The critics said that it could lose federal money from Medicaid and Medicare for HIV treatment and medical assistance for low-income families.

Christine Keeves, a spokesperson for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, said, “Health-care providers are sworn to put patients first and to do no harm. Giving providers an excuse to deny services or treatment to LGBTQ people will exacerbate already prevalent health disparities and put patients last.”

California’s lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and names the HHS, its secretary Alex Azar, and its director Roger Severino.

Severino told to CNBC in an email, “The rule provides enforcement tools to federal conscience protections that have been on the books for decades. The rule does not create new substantive rights.”

He added, “We have not seen the hypotheticals that some have used to criticize the rule actually develop in real life. Faith-based providers just like all providers should be allowed to serve those most in need without fear of being pushed out of the health care system because of their beliefs, including declining to participate in the taking of human life.” Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General, said that he is prepared to do whatever it takes to challenge the “conscience” rule. In fact, Becerra has already filed lawsuits against other healthcare issues, such as “gag rule” on aborting, which was ordered by Trump administration.