Civil rights organizations, consumer groups and Democratic state attorney generals pushed back against a Trump administration proposal that would allow faith-based organizations to collect federal funds to deliver social and healthcare services without having to tell recipients that they don't offer certain services because of religious concerns.
Critics of the policy claim that rule would have a disproportionately negative effect on individuals who are women, LBGTQ, low-income or people of color, according to comments on the proposed rule due to HHS last month. They're concerned that the rule change could harm peoples' social determinants of health and reduce their access to care.
"These new regulations will place barriers between government-funded social services and their intended beneficiaries," the liberal Center for American Progress wrote.
Opponents worry that people could be denied care based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, sex or religion. There is also concern that those patients won't be able to access certain types of care like reproductive services, including abortion, because faith-based organizations wouldn't have to disclose that they don't provide those services or refer them to a provider that does.
"LGBTQ patients already tend to avoid seeking care out of fear of discrimination. Any deterrent, including refusal to provide a referral, would further discourage LGBTQ patients from seeking necessary care," Democratic state attorney generals from 22 states and the District of Columbia wrote in a letter.
The rule's detractors also fear that faith-based providers would discriminate against employees who don't share their religion.
"If implemented, this provision would likely exacerbate shortages of healthcare professions in medically underserved areas by reducing the pool of otherwise qualified care providers," the National Health Law Program said.
But the policy's defenders say that religiously affiliated social service and health providers have been unfairly subject to different standards than their secular counterparts.
"Existing regulations often require faith-based organizations receiving HHS funds to violate their religious identity and their own tenets to participate with the government in serving the vulnerable of our society," the Catholic Medical Association, The National Catholic Bioethics Center and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability wrote in a joint letter.
Ascension and other faith-based providers expressed support for the Trump administration's policy and they're adamant that it won't harm patients.
"Our providers and facilities serve all comers, most especially those persons who are vulnerable and at the margins of society," Ascension said.
Still, many advocacy groups and clinicians worry that the rule change would make it more difficult for people to access care, especially in communities where a faith-based organization is the predominant or only hospital. They're also not convinced the new policy is necessary.
"Faith-based organizations have long partnered with the government to provide important social services for people in need. These longstanding partnerships demonstrate that faith-based organizations do not need these changes in order to effectively work with the government," said the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, a group of religious, civil rights, education, labor, health, LGBTQ and women's organizations. The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Federation of Teachers signed onto the letter, among others.
Most hospital associations and medical societies did not comment on the proposed rule.