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California joined nearly two dozen cities and states in legally challenging the Trump administration over a federal rule allowing individuals and healthcare organizations to opt out of providing healthcare services if they object on religious or moral grounds.

The final rule, scheduled to take effect in July, would, if implemented, cut off federal funds to institutions that prevent healthcare workers from recusing themselves on religious grounds. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said the rule change is needed to protect the religious freedom of employees who may object to some healthcare procedures.

The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, said the expanded “conscience” protections could undermine the ability of states and cities to provide effective healthcare without jeopardizing billions of dollars a year in federal aid, according to Reuters, It also said the rule would upset legislative efforts to accommodate workers’ beliefs while ensuring that hospitals, other businesses and staff treat patients effectively.

“This change to put providers above patients comes at a dangerous price,” says the complaint in New York.

In 2018, the American Medical Association called on HHS to withdraw the proposed, saying the rule "would function as a shield for people asserting objections on religious or moral grounds and could permit them to withhold care from already vulnerable groups."

The California Medical Association also issued a statement on the proposed rule in 2018: “We are concerned that [the proposed rule] may lead to discrimination that is prohibited under both federal and California law, adversely impact patient access to comprehensive care, and inappropriately insert politics into the patient-physician relationship. Moreover, current federal and California law provide extensive protections for the conscience rights of healthcare providers, and the supplemental administrative burdens imposed by this rule do not add any meaningful benefit.

“The Proposed Rule’s provisions are not only redundant but will have a chilling effect on the enforcement of and passage of state laws that protect access to health care,” CMA wrote in comments submitted to HHS on the proposed regulations. “California law already properly balances the rights of physicians and their patients…Adding a confusing and unnecessary layer of federal regulations may prevent [other] states from successfully passing and implementing their own conscience protections.”

California joins New York City; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Cook County, Illinois, 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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