Judge Scraps 'Conscience' Rule Protecting Doctors Who Deny Care For Religious Reasons

Grant Boone
November 7, 2019

A federal judge on Wednesday voided a White House-backed rule that would have made it easier for doctors and nurses to avoid performing abortions on religious or moral grounds.

In a 147-page opinion issued Tuesday, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY vacated the rule entirely, just weeks before it was scheduled to take effect on November 22. "In the future, however, the agency must do so within the confines of the APA and the Constitution".

The judge also said the rule was "arbitrary and capricious, ' and conflicted with federal laws governing the obligations of employers to accommodate workers" religious views, and hospitals to provide emergency treatment to poor patients. NY attorney General Letitia James led the lawsuit on behalf of 19 states and the District of Columbia, which argued that the policy allows Americans to "openly discriminate and refuse to provide necessary health care to patients based on providers" "religious beliefs or moral objections'".

The administration prevailed in earlier lawsuits against a rule that barred federal family planning grants from going to providers that perform abortions, most notably Planned Parenthood, and has also cut worldwide aid to groups that provide or offer abortions.

"Health care is a basic right that should never be subject to political games", James said.

He also chastised HHS for making a "factually untrue" and "demonstrably false" claim that there had been a "significant increase" in complaints about conscience protection violations.

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Others opposing the rule include women's groups, organizations and states.

A coalition of 23 states and municipalities filed a lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court asking a judge to declare the rule unconstitutional and in excess of HHS' statutory jurisdiction.

Engelmayer, who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, said HHS lacked authority to create major portions of the rule, including a provision that said a health care institution's federal funding can be cut off for violating the measure.

"HHS, together with DOJ [the Department of Justice], is reviewing the court's opinion and so will not comment on the pending litigation at this time", the department said in an email to FierceHealthcare.

The ruling came right after wellbeing businesses and other people sued the U.S. Section of Health and fitness and Human Companies.

The 2019 rule, which had been set to take effect late this month, would effectively supersede existing law in the health care field, he said.

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