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Lawsuits filed over Bush rule on health care workers

  • Story Highlights
  • Connecticut attorney general: Regulation would put women's health care at risk
  • Rule further protects health workers who refuse procedures on moral grounds
  • Department of Health and Human Services promulgated the rule last month
  • HHS: Rule protects workers' right to care for patients in accord with their conscience
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(CNN) -- Seven states and two organizations have sued the Bush administration in an attempt to block a federal regulation that would further protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions or other medical procedures because of religious or moral reasons.

A rule protecting the rights of health care providers who refuse to participate in certain procedures is under fire.

A rule protecting the rights of health care providers who refuse to participate in certain procedures is under fire.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of his state, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Blumenthal said the regulation would put women's health care at risk and would undercut state contraception laws.

"On its way out, the Bush administration has left a ticking legal time bomb set to explode literally the day of the inaugural and blow apart vital constitutional rights and women's health care," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Women's health may be endangered -- needlessly and unlawfully -- if this rule is allowed to stand."

He said the regulation "intentionally shrouds" abortion in "new and unnecessary ambiguity," encouraging individuals to define it and to "deny virtually all forms of contraceptions, even emergency contraception to rape victims."

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and American Civil Liberties Union, which was acting on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, also filed separate suits Thursday.

The Department of Health and Human Services said the regulation would allow the federal government to withhold federal funds for state and local governments, health plans and health care facilities that do not follow existing federal laws that ban discrimination against doctors and other health workers who refuse to participate in procedures such as sterilizations or abortions or to make referrals for such procedures.

"We have not had an opportunity to review the lawsuits and we will respond to the court on any pending litigation," department spokeswoman Rebecca Ayers said in an e-mail. "The department followed appropriate procedures to put the regulation in place and the regulation is fully supported by law."

The department promulgated the rule last month.

"Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a statement then. "This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience."

The department has said that it believes the public and health care providers are unaware of the federal anti-discrimination laws.

"Many health care providers routinely face pressure to change their medical practice -- often in direct opposition to their personal convictions," said the department's assistant secretary of health, Adm. Joxel Garcia, in a statement in December.

"During my practice as an OB-GYN, I witnessed this firsthand. Health care providers shouldn't have to check their consciences at the hospital door. Fortunately, Congress enacted several laws to that end, but too many are unaware these protections exist."

All About Health Care PolicyU.S Department of Health and Human Services

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