23 cities and states sue to block Trump from letting doctors be bigots


The Trump administration is set to impose a rule that would allow health care professionals to discriminate against anyone they don't like. A new lawsuit seeks to stop that from happening.

The Trump administration is facing a lawsuit over its attempt to impose its religious views on patients seeking health care.

Led by Letitia James, attorney general for New York, a network of 23 cities and states have sued the Trump administration over its bigoted "religious freedom" rule. That rule, set to take effect July 1, would allow health care professionals to refuse to provide care to people they don't like. The lawsuit seeks to permanently block the rule from taking effect.

As the lawsuit notes, those refusals will disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations. Women and LGBT people are "already stigmatized" in getting access to health care and, under Trump's rule, they will be "further hindered" from getting the healthcare they need.

This isn't just speculation. Vice President Mike Pence has been working tirelessly to gut funding for reproductive health care. The origin of Trump's transgender troop ban was grounded in Trump's belief that public dollars should never pay for transgender individuals to have transition-related care.

The lawsuit highlights exactly how broad this rule would sweep. First, it expands who is considered a provider and can refuse care. It isn't just doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Ambulance drivers, office receptionists, and insurance company workers are all covered under the rule.

The rule reaches so far that even if an insurance company customer service representative objected to a particular medical procedure, they could refuse to preauthorize a procedure to which they object.

Next, the refusal to provide care can happen at any time, without warning. Health care-related businesses would be prohibited from asking, during the hiring process, whether the applicant has any objections to the "core functions" of their job. After being hired, employees are under no duty to disclose any religious or moral objections they have. Then, at any time, they can object to a task by saying it is against their religion or moral code.

What this means in practice is that objections can happen at crisis points when patients most need health care. The lawsuit offers two examples, both of which are equally terrifying. If someone arrives at an emergency room with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and needs a lifesaving abortion, nearly every type of employee could refuse to assist that patient because they have a moral objection to abortion. More widespread harm could come if a nurse who is anti-vaccine refuses to provide measles shots during an outbreak — not a far-fetched example given Trump's enthusiastic embrace of anti-vaxxers.

The cities and states that have chosen to sue did so in part because these are locations where the administration's rule would improperly overrule state or local laws. Many of the states that are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, have laws that require sexual assault victims be promptly informed of the availability of emergency contraception. Once the rule takes effect, personnel in those states could ignore those state laws.

This administration wants to let conservative religious employees dictate what kind of care patients do or do not receive. This lawsuit could make the difference between whether patients' rights are protected or not.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.