New York Attorney General Letitia James

A coalition of 23 states, cities and municipalities filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government for a final rule that allows individual healthcare workers as well as healthcare organizations to decline to provide care that conflicts with their religious and moral beliefs or mission.

The federal lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, argues that the final rule violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act and the Spending Clause and separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution. It seeks to enjoin the final rule and prevent it from going into effect in July.

“The federal government is giving healthcare providers free license to openly discriminate and refuse care to patients — a gross misinterpretation of religious freedom that will have devastating consequences on communities throughout the country,” said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading the coalition that filed the complaint. “When the health of our residents is at stake, and the safety of vulnerable populations hang in the balance, we cannot rest until this ‘healthcare refusal’ rule is stopped.”

The final rule makes several references to abortion but also refers to advance directives, “assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing,” “compulsory healthcare or services generally, and under specific programs for hearing screening, occupational illness testing; vaccination and mental health treatment” as well as “certain requirements under Medicare and Medicaid that may burden their exercise of their religious beliefs regarding medical treatment.”

Some elder advocacy groups also have worried that the federal government’s approach could lead to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including those who live in senior living communities.

In addition to the state of New York, the lawsuit was filed by New York City; Chicago; Cook County, IL.; Washington, D.C.; and the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

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