Federal judge strikes down Donald Trump's 'conscience' rule on abortions

Henrietta Brewer
November 7, 2019

"Today, the court safeguarded the public's health by striking down the Trump administration's healthcare refusal rule", Clare Coleman, president and CEO NFPRHA said in a statement. "As the federal district court made clear, the administration acted outside its authority and made false claims to try to justify this rule".

Proposed by HHS' Office of Civil Rights more than a year ago, the rule was created to protect "conscience rights" of health-care providers by boosting enforcement of at least two dozen laws already on the books that allow doctors, nurses, technicians, and other providers to opt out of procedures such as abortions or gender-change procedures to which they object.

Although the litigation also contended the rule is unlawful because it violates the Establishment Clause under the First Amendment prohibiting the USA government from aligning with any particular religion, Engelmayer rules "the challenge here fails" in this regrad.

Engelmayer said his ruling came in three consolidated lawsuits.

Engelmayer's decision covered a lawsuit by New York state, New York City and 21 other states and municipalities that are led by Democrats or often lean Democratic, as well as two lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said the rule was created to help enforce "conscience protection" laws that have been on the books for decades.

Plaintiffs had argued that the rule was unconstitutional because it would be discriminatory and stall access to health care for populations nationwide.

"New York Attorney General Letitia James said the state sued in part because the rule "was an unlawful attempt to allow health care providers to openly discriminate and refuse to provide necessary health care to patients based on providers" 'religious beliefs or moral objections".

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.

The Trump administration did not immediately comment on the ruling, but is expected to appeal.

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

"Contrary to HHS's depiction of it as mere housekeeping, the rule relocates the metes and bounds -- the who, what, when, where, and how -- of conscience protection under federal law", the judge wrote in his 147-page opinion.

The Trump administration issued the rule to protect healthcare workers who want to opt out of providing care or services, such as abortions, that violate their conscience.

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