Two dozen US states and municipalities began legal action against the Trump administration on Tuesday, May 21st, to stop it from enforcing a rule that would make it easier for doctors and nurses to avoid performing abortions on religious or moral grounds, Reuters has reported.
A 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.
It also said the rule would upset legislative efforts to accommodate workers' beliefs while ensuring that hospitals, other businesses and staff treat patients effectively.
Sterilizations and assisted suicide are other procedures that might be impeded, according to a complaint filed by New York and 22 other states and municipalities in federal court in Manhattan. California filed a similar lawsuit in San Francisco.
The rule is scheduled to take effect on July 22nd. It will be enforced by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Roger Severino, director of HHS' Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement: "The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades. HHS finalized the conscience rule after more than a year of careful consideration and after analysing over 242,000 public comments. We will defend the rule vigorously."
President Donald Trump, a Republican, has made expanding religious liberty a priority, and the proposed rule drew support from anti-abortion activists.
The Manhattan lawsuit said the rule could even prevent hospitals from asking applicants for nursing jobs whether they opposed giving measles vaccinations, even during an outbreak.
So far in 2019, the worst US measles outbreak in a quarter century has infected 880 people, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday, May 20th.
The plaintiffs in Tuesday's lawsuits are either led by Democrats or others with a Democratic leaning.
They also include New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC; 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; and Cook County, Illinois.
Hundreds of lawsuits by Democratic-leaning states and municipalities have targeted White House policies under Trump.
The cases are New York et al v US Department of Health and Human Services et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-04676; and California v Azar et al, US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 19-02769.