Keith Ellison

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined 22 attorneys general in submitting a comment letter opposing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed rule which that gives health care workers leeway to refuse to provide some services to patients if they cite a religious or conscientious objection. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images 2016)

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in submitting a comment letter in opposition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed rule which that gives health care workers leeway to refuse to provide services, including abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide, if they cite a religious or conscientious objection.

“Good, affordable health care is a basic human right that helps everyone afford their lives, live with dignity and respect, and just live — and everyone should have it, no exceptions,” Ellison said. “I’m not standing by and letting the Trump Administration discriminate against some the most vulnerable folks in our society, strip them of their human rights and dignity, and strip all Americans of common decency.”

In today’s letter, the attorneys general emphasize that the rule, which was introduced on Friday, Aug. 15, would undermine the robust anti-discrimination protections set under current law.

The final rule aims to fulfill President Donald Trump’s promise to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty, a promise he made when he signed an executive order in May 2017 protecting religious liberty. In October 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance encouraging other Departments, including HHS, to implement and enforce all relevant religious freedom laws.

“Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” said OCR Director Roger Severino, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

“This rule ensures that health care 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,” Severino said.

However, state attorneys general warn it could specifically harm:

Women: The proposed rule reverses protections against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, recovery from childbirth, or related conditions. It would lead to the denial of service related to reproductive health, resulting in an increase in unintended pregnancies.

LGBTQ people: The proposed rule reverses protections against discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping and gender identity. It would lead LGBTQ individuals, who already experience barriers to receiving medical services, to avoid seeking healthcare services.

People with Limited English Proficiency: The proposed rule reverses protections for nearly 25 million people in the United States who do not speak English “very well” and may be considered Limited English Proficient. It would reverse language assistance requirements that ensure individuals are able to communicate with their healthcare service and coverage providers.

People living with disabilities: The proposed rule seeks to reverse requirements that providers make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.

Ellison joined the coalition, which is led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in filing the comment letter, alongside the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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