Rhode Island is one of two dozen states suing the federal government over a rule that protects health care providers who refuse to provide services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs. Part of the reason for the suit: state prosecutors say the rule conflicts with existing state and federal laws.
The federal rule, announced May 2nd and set to go into effect in July, would allow health care providers to refuse services based on religious or moral beliefs. The Department of Health and Human Services rule requires health care facilities to certify that they’re complying with 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights. Those laws cover medical procedures including assisted suicide, sterilization, and abortion.
Twenty states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, joined the lawsuit filed in federal court in New York Tuesday. That lawsuit asks a judge to declare the rule unconstitutional. A separate lawsuit was also filed in San Francisco federal court.
Deputy Attorney General for Rhode Island, Adi Goldstein, noted Rhode Island law already allows health care providers who work at facilities that provide abortions to abstain from participating in the procedure by giving a written notice to their employer.
“Health care professionals in Rhode Island who have these objections are protected under state, as well as federal, law from participating,” Goldstein pointed out.
Discrepancies between state law and the new policy could put the federal funding Rhode Island receives for programs like Medicaid in jeopardy.
And Goldstein said, “The problem with this rule is that it potentially undermines our state’s ability to balance those conscientious objections with the access to healthcare of Rhode Island patients.”
Goldstein argued the new policy isn’t consistent with existing federal laws, like the Affordable Care Act, because under the new rule health care providers would not be required to refer a patient elsewhere for a procedure they’re morally opposed to.
Plus, Goldstein added, the new rule is much broader than existing laws. “It really extends far beyond like the nurse or doctor who might be participating in the procedure, and could go as far as a lab tech, a receptionist, a billing person," she said. And therefore it could really upend the delivery of healthcare.”
As a party to the lawsuit, any injunction handed down by the judge would keep the rule from going into effect in Rhode Island.