Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the “conscience rule” issued earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

The action follows the filing of a separate lawsuit against the federal government over the rule by a coalition of 23 states, cities and municipalities.

Under the final rule, effective July 22, individual healthcare workers as well as healthcare organizations can decline to provide care that conflicts with their religious and moral beliefs or mission. Among providers affected are assisted living communities that accept payments from Medicaid.

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.”

Plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, County of Santa Clara vs. HHS, maintain that the rule is unconstitutional because it advances specific religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment; violates individuals’ rights to privacy, liberty and equal dignity as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment; and chills speech and expression in violation of the First Amendment, all to the detriment of individuals’ health and well-being. The lawsuit also asserts that HHS violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act in creating the rule by “arbitrarily and capriciously failing to consider the impact on patients.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in coordination with Santa Clara County. The three organizations are representing Trust Women Seattle, Hartford GYN, Whitman-Walker Health, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Center on Halsted, Mazzoni Center, GLMA, AGLP: The Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists, Medical Students for Choice and various physicians.

Elder advocacy group SAGE noted in a recent post on its website that some fear the new rule could make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.

“Still, a growing number of senior housing and care sites are putting non-discrimination policies in place and training personnel to provide LGBTQ-inclusive care,” SAGE said. Staff members from the organization have trained more than 50,000 people at more than 300 sites nationwide, according to SAGE.

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