By R Carter
A federal judge in New York has blocked the Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called conscience rule, which lets health care workers who cite moral or religious reasons for opting out of providing certain medical procedures, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.
“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.”
This decision leaves HHS at liberty to consider and propagate rules governing these provisions. “In the future, however, the agency must do so within the confines of the APA and the Constitution.”, added Judge Engelmayer.
The Administrative Procedure Act is a federal law that governs the way agencies can propose and establish regulations.
This ruling is a blow to the Trump administration, which has put a focus on religious freedom protections for health care workers by creating a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within HHS. It also enforces existing laws which ban private health care providers who receive federal funds, from requiring employees to participate in abortions or sterilizations.
The conscience rule was slated to go into effect on November 22, 2019 and has drawn eight challenges across four different federal district courts filed by a slew of states and reproductive health groups. Reproductive rights advocates argue the rule would hurt those seeking reproductive care and in the LGBTQ community, it would harm the idea of religious liberty used to justify endangering patients.
Several states and reproductive rights groups filed a challenge after HHS unveiled the rule last year, and President Donald Trump announced the final rule in May. Some Republican Senators are calling on the Trump administration to fight this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.
Supporters of the ruling say they will continue to fight the rule, condemning it as an unlawful attempt to allow healthcare providers to openly discriminate and refuse to provide care to patients based on providers’ religious beliefs or moral objections. Upholding the rule would have been more than a burden of conscious on those who were refused care. Religious beliefs do not include a license to discriminate, to deny essential care, or to cause harm to others, those too are the tenants of faith for all religions. The pursuit of life, liberty and happiness are also tenants afforded to all Americans, not just those who purport a religious belief.