An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washington Sues To Stop Federal "Conscience" Rules

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The Washington attorney general’s office today [Tuesday] sued the federal government to stop the enforcement of so-called “conscience” rules for health care providers. The lawsuit was filed in Spokane.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released a regulation it says enacts about 25 “federal conscience protection provisions.” The objective, says the agency, is to ensure “healthcare professionals will not feel compelled to leave the practice of medicine because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience.” It refers to procedures such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the rule imposes the federal government’s views on people who are looking for timely health care. His lawsuit alleges the rule would especially hurt those seeking reproductive health care, care related to their status as LGBTQ individuals or those looking for guidance at the end of life. He says it could also reduce options for rural residents, including those in eastern Washington, who have fewer choices in health care.

“This rule by the Trump administration takes that Washington state law, which we think is a fair balance, that accommodates all interests, patients as well as provider, and takes it to a whole other level. It expands the number of individuals, says it applies even in an emergency, applies even to insurance companies, you get the idea. It’s tremendously broad in scope and eviscerates Washington state’s law that we think is thoughtful and has a good balanced approach," Ferguson said.

He says his office is seeking to have the rule declared illegal. It’s scheduled to go into effect on July 20. HHS officials say the new regulations will be far more comprehensive than current federal conscience rules.