Seven States Sue To Block ‘Conscience Rule’

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Illinois, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Oregon joined Connecticut’s lawsuit:

… to block an impending federal rule that critics say will allow health care providers to deny care, including emergency contraception to rape victims, with no recourse for patients.

The Provider Conscience Rule, one of several controversial regulation changes pushed through federal agencies in the final months of the Bush administration, is scheduled to take effect Tuesday and reinforces protections for health care workers and institutions that refuse to provide services they object to.

The so-called “midnight regulations,” which also include measures that loosen environmental safeguards, add restrictions to the Family and Medical Leave Act and increase the number of hours truckers can drive, can be reversed only through a lengthy rule-making process or blocked by an act of Congress.

In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is seeking an injunction to stop the Provider Conscience Rule from taking effect. The lawsuit also asks the court to invalidate the regulation.

Blumenthal said the rule would allow health care providers or pharmacists to deny a patient medical care without explanation or offering the patient a referral or information on alternatives, upsetting the balance between health providers’ religious freedom and patients’ rights.

It would also override a 2007 Connecticut law that guarantees that all hospitals in the state provide emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B, to rape victims. That law has been endorsed by Catholic leaders, who initially opposed it, and has not produced complaints, Blumenthal said.

According to the the WaPo:

Blumenthal’s lawsuit challenges the regulation on several grounds, charging that it is too vague and overbroad and conflicts with other federal laws and state laws. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a second suit on behalf of its affiliates, while the American Civil Liberties Union filed sued on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents many state and county health departments, among other providers.

A more detailed overview of the legal claims Connecticut makes can be found here.

The Washington Post has also reported that the rule would apply to more than 584,000 health care facilities, will cost more than $44 million to implement, and could allow infertility doctors to turn away unmarried couples and lesbian women seeking pregnancy by artificial insemination. Pharmacists could also cite religious beliefs as a reason not to fill birth control prescriptions.

Partially via the ACS blog.

–Ann Bartow

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