A national smattering of LGBTQ health centers and other medical organizations are taking the Trump administration’s “Denial of Care Rule” to bat in district court.
The action calls for striking down the federal ruling that would allow healthcare workers to refuse to perform medical procedures, like abortion and gender-affirming surgery, that violate their religion or “conscience.” The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Mazzoni Center join plaintiffs from cities including Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles in County of Santa Clara v. Azar, a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, headed by former pharmaceutical executive Secretary Alex Azar, released its final 440-page ruling earlier this month. The decision, which has been in the works since January 2018, will be effective July 22 — unless complainants have their say.
“This rule that invites discrimination by those trusted to provide care for our bodies and for our lives will worsen health outcomes for the LGBT community, worsen health disparities and lead to lower quality care,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. “Then, some people won't seek care at all.”
The Bradbury-Sullivan Center administers an annual state-wide LGBT health assessment, which measures wellness disparities within the community.
Last year’s evaluation found more than 50 percent of LGBT Pennsylvanians and 75 percent of transgender residents fear seeking medical care because of negative past experiences that resulted from being LGBTQ, Shanker said.
The federal ruling will particularly impose barriers to healthcare access on underserved or rural communities, like Lehigh Valley, Shanker added. This could cause LGBTQ health service options to become so limited that people will need to find transportation, take time off work and commute for hours to access medical care.
“Once again, this Administration shows itself to be determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement this month. “This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others. …Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”
When announcing the final rule May 2, the Department of Health and Human Services stated it “fulfills President Trump’s promise to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty.”
“Finally, laws prohibiting government-funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law.”
The Bradbury-Sullivan Center joined the lawsuit, Shanker said, because “this rule is just too significant, too harmful. It’s yet another attack on the LGBT community and it’s an attack on a place that hurts all of us, which is accessing the care that we need to survive.”
“The Trump admin is wrong about LGBT health and we're going to stand up for the LGBT community's healthcare needs,” he added, “especially for our community here in the Lehigh Valley, but this rule will affect all Americans in a negative way.”
Other plaintiffs speaking out against the rule include the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, nonprofit Medical Students for Choice, Hartford GYN Center and Trust Women Seattle. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Santa Clara County, Lambda Legal, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are leading the charge.
Representatives from seven of the involved parties are holding a teleconference 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the case and how the ruling would impact their clinics and patients.