WASHINGTON — Sixteen health care groups and doctors sued the Trump administration Tuesday to block a rule that enables health workers to refuse to perform abortion or sex reassignment surgery.
The 183-page lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Santa Clara County, California, argues the rule sends a message to health care providers around the country that they should limit or stop providing abortion care and sex reassignment or risk losing vital government funding. This, the advocates behind the suit argue, will make abortion and transgender services even less available in rural areas where state laws make it increasingly difficult to access that care.
The rule essentially expanded the Department of Health and Human Service’s definition of “workplace discrimination” to include workers who feel they are being made to perform these specific procedures against their religious beliefs. The rule also gives them a clear avenue to report this discrimination. If a hospital or health care organization receives too many of these complaints, they could lose their federal funding, a funding stream that many health care providers rely on for their survival. It is not scheduled to take effect until July.
The lawsuit argues Trump’s rule could lead to serious and even fatal consequences, including in situations actually named in the text of the rule itself: nonviable pregnancies threatening the health or life of the mother where an emergency abortion needs to be performed. The rule says that these situations should be analyzed on a “case by case” basis, but Scott and the plaintiffs argue it could cause physicians to make the wrong call in emergency situations.
The rule is “so vague and confusing,” Scott argued, “that it is unworkable for health care facilities to be able to implement it.”
The suit claims that the rule violates several constitutional statutes including the separation of church and state, by valuing religious beliefs over the rights of patients to access care; the Fifth Amendment by violating patients’ “rights to privacy, liberty and equal dignity,” as a press release for the lawsuit put it; and the First Amendment, by “chill[ing] patients’ speech and expression” pertaining to their sexual orientation or gender.