Judge strikes down new Trump rule on religious objections

Grant Boone
November 8, 2019

A federal judge in NY has vacated a Trump administration "conscience rule" allowing health care workers to get out of procedures with which they have religious objections, such as abortion or gender reassignment surgery.

"The Court vacates the 2019 rule in its entirety", US District Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in an opinion Wednesday, noting that existing federal conscience provisions "accommodate religious and moral objections to health care services provided by recipients of federal funds" and "recognize and protect undeniably important rights".

"We are heartened by today's ruling, and we will not stop fighting to prioritize patients' need for standard medical care over health-care personnels' personal religious or moral beliefs", the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association said in a statement.

"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", a statement from OCR Director Roger Severino said at the time of rule's introduction.

The judge's decision consolidated three lawsuits, including one filed by NY state and 22 other states and municipalities, as well as legal action brought by Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).

HHS told ABC News it will not comment on the pending litigation and is now reviewing the court's opinion alongside the Justice Department.

The rule, perviously set to take effect November 22, would have allowed HHS-funded helath care entity to decline to perform abortions, sterilization, assisted suicide and other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

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

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. She said personal beliefs should not determine whether a patient has access to the care it needs.

The rule emerged after President Donald Trump in May 2017 signed an executive order instructing the attorney general to issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services published a rule applying more than 30 "Conscience Provisions" that must be complied with for an entity to receive federal funding.

Lawsuits challenging the rule argued that the department exceeded its authority in establishing the rule, violated the Constitution and acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in creating it.

'These limits have clear potential to inhibit the employer's ability to organize workplace arrangements to avoid inefficiencies and dislocations, ' he said.

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