Backed 'conscience' rule for healthcare workers voided by US judge

August Mulvihill of Norwalk Iowa center holds a sign depicting a wire clothes hanger during a rally at the Statehouse in Des Moines Iowa to protest recent abortion bans. On Wednesday Nov. 6 2019

A federal judge Wednesday blocked the Trump administration's rule allowing healthcare workers to refuse to provide abortions - and other procedures - that violate their religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan said the "conscience" rule was unconstitutionally coercive because it would let the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) withhold billions of dollars of funding from hospitals, clinics, universities and other healthcare providers that did not comply. "In the future, however, the agency must do so within the confines of the APA and the Constitution".

Although the litigation also contended the rule is unlawful because it violates the Establishment Clause under the First Amendment prohibiting the US government from aligning with any particular religion, Engelmayer rules "the challenge here fails" in this regrad. According to the Equality Case Files, eight cases are pending in four courts challenging the HHS rule.

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).

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.

"Courts across the country are seeing the denial of care rule for what it is, an egregious violation of the civil rights of and a direct attack on the lives of women, LGBT people, religious minorities and many others", Gliksberg said.

The rule would have protected "conscience rights" in health care by reinforcing at least two dozen laws that allow doctors, nurses, technicians and other providers to opt out of procedures such as abortions or gender-change procedures they object to on personal or religious grounds.

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

The new HHS rule broadens the list of health care personnel who can refuse to participate, expanding it to those who counsel, refer, train or make arrangements for a medical procedure.

He said the rule could force some health care employers to double or triple staff, particularly during emergencies.

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.