Metro Weekly

Trump administration sued for allowing health care workers to deny care to LGBTQ people

Lawsuit argues that the exemption violates federal law and threatens patients' ability to access health care

Nursing assistants – Photo: Truckee Meadows Community College, via Wikimedia.

A group of health care and civil rights advocates is suing the Trump administration over a new rule that allows health care workers to refuse to provide medical services to LGBTQ people, among others.

The rule, finalized last month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, seeks to allow medical providers and health care institutions to cite their personal religious or moral beliefs as justification for refusing to perform or participate in certain medical procedures, such as sterilizations, abortions, or gender confirmation surgeries.

Under the new rule, a hospital receptionist could refuse to schedule an appointment for a transgender person seeking gender-affirming care, or an orderly could refuse to transport a patient to an operating room for an emergency abortion. The rule is set to take effect on July 22.

On Tuesday, the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, Public Health Solutions, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit challenging the rule in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The groups are asking the court to issue a temporary preliminary injunction blocking the rule from taking effect while the case is being argued, as well as a permanent injunction doing the same.

The groups argue that the rule exceeds HHS’s statutory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, and violates various laws, including Title X of the Public Health Services Act, the Affordable Care Act, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, and the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs also argue that the rule could embolden health care workers to refuse to provide other health services, even those not previously deemed objectionable, based on dislike of a patient’s identity.

It would also unfairly force health centers that receive federal funds to employ individuals who refuse to perform essential job functions, without regard for the wellbeing of their patients or public safety.

“The ACLU will not stand by as our government institutes policy that could endanger people’s lives,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU, said in a statement. “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it cannot be used to harm others — especially when that includes withholding emergency care or critical information about patients’ health.”

Similar lawsuits have been lodged by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, and Democracy Forward.

In May, New York Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 23 cities and states, filed a separate lawsuit challenging the rule. 

NFPRHA President and CEO Clare Coleman notes that the rule could hamper people’s ability to access the delivery of high-quality family planning services under Title X.

“Health care providers’ beliefs should never determine whether patients can access essential care they need to stay healthy,” Coleman said. “NFPRHA is going to court to make sure that patients get the critical information and care that they need, and to ensure that the patient’s well-being is paramount.”

“Personal views do not give people the right to withhold critical health care or endanger others’ lives,” Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Patients should be able to trust that they’re getting the health care they need, regardless of religion or politics. This is just the latest in the Trump administration’s continued attack on women and LGBTQ people, and New Yorkers won’t stand for it.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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