Christine Stuart photo
State Comptroller Nancy Wyman (Christine Stuart photo )

Connecticut joined six other states Thursday in suing the federal government over a new rule that expands protections for health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions or distribute contraception based on their ethical, moral, or religious objections.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who filed the lawsuit in US District Court on behalf of the states, said the decision by the US Department of Health and Human Services last month has left a “ticking time bomb for the new administration.”

Blumenthal and State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, who is a plaintiff in the case, claim the new rule says no state may discriminate against any entity because it refuses to provide or pay for or refer a woman for an abortion. They also claim it fails to define the word abortion and could prevent a woman from obtaining birth control.

“This new regulation shrouds the term abortion in new an unnecessary ambiguity,” Blumenthal said.

In addition they said the new rule trumps a state law which require health care workers to provide rape victims with access to Plan B.

“It is mind-boggling to me we’re still fighting this battle 19-years later,” Wyman said.

“What we have here is a potentially dangerous, ideologically driven regulation,” State Health Care Advocate Kevin Lembo said.

Lembo whose job it is to help residents navigate the health insurance system said this rule makes it impossible to know whether she will have access to the family planning services she needs when she’s choosing a health plan. He said health care workers will be able to deny her care without any explanation.

Blumenthal said there is no provision in the rule that requires the health care worker to then tell their employer they refused to provide a woman health care. 

ACLU Executive Director Andrew Schneider said the federal laws are carefully crafted to balance religious liberty and family health care. He said during the 30-day comment period on this new rule more than 200,000 comments were submitted to the Health and Human Services Department and “the overwhelming majority were in opposition to this rule.”

Blumenthal said President-elect Barack Obama can not simply come in and abolish this rule with an executive order. The rules are established under a process which is set by statute. In over the get the rule reversed the new administration will have to go through the same process.

He said there’s also a real danger the state could lose federal funding if it decides not to adhere to the rule. He said he expects the Obama administration to enforce the law even if they don’t agree with it.

“There’s a real and immediate threat that women will be denied health care,” Blumenthal said.

Mary Jane Gallagher, president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said “Families who seek access to care should not be turned away or given incomplete information simply because of the misguided ideology of the outgoing administration.”

The ACLU on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. filed a parallel lawsuit along with the lawsuit filed by the seven states.

California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island joined Connecticut in the lawsuit.