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IN THE COURTS | Antiabortion Medical Groups File Motions Objecting to Lawsuits Against HHS Provider 'Conscience' Rule

IN THE COURTS | Antiabortion Medical Groups File Motions Objecting to Lawsuits Against HHS Provider 'Conscience' Rule
[Jan. 23, 2009]

Attorneys representing three antiabortion medical groups -- the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, the Catholic Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- on Wednesday filed motions in the U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn., in objection to three recent lawsuits challenging HHS' new provider "conscience" rule, which greatly expands the ability of health care workers to refuse to provide services they find morally or religiously objectionable, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports. Attorneys from the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund, which represent the antiabortion medical associations, claim that the lawsuits would force medical providers to perform abortion-related services or face punishment (AP/Chicago Tribune, 1/23).

Seven states, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association on Jan. 15 filed three separate lawsuits opposing the rule, which allows the federal government to cut off funding to state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities that do not certify that they accommodate employees who refuse to provide medical information or services on moral or religious grounds. The rule was scheduled to take effect Tuesday.

The three lawsuits challenge the HHS rule on multiple grounds, including that it is too broad, that it conflicts with other federal and state laws, and that it violates the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution. The suits also allege the rule was issued in violation of the public comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act because HHS failed to sufficiently address the major public comments it received during the rulemaking process. Finally, the suits claim that the rule puts an unconstitutional burden on women by violating their constitutional right to be free of government interference in access to reproductive health services (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 1/16).