Judge strikes down new Trump rule on religious objections

Over a thousand New Yorkers joined pro-choice activist groups and elected officials at Foley Square

Over a thousand New Yorkers joined pro-choice activist groups and elected officials at Foley Square

A federal judge in NY has struck down a rule letting overall health care clinicians object to offering abortions and other expert services on moral or spiritual grounds. They argued that the rule illegally favored the personal views of health-care workers over the needs of patients and threatened to hobble the ability of state-run health-care facilities to provide effective care.

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.

Judge Paul Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY handed down his ruling Wednesday, November 6, in the case of State of NY v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services vacating the rule.

HHS cites 358 complaints between November 2016 and the end of fiscal year 2018, but Engelmayer notes the Trump administration has admitted six percent are duplicates, leaving only 343, and "only around 20 complaints implicate any of the conscience provisions".

The Trump administration announced the rule in May as an effort to protect the rights of people and institutions in the health care field who have moral objections to certain procedures like abortion, the provision of contraception, or "assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing".

Graves said the rule would allow "anyone from a doctor to a receptionist, to entities like hospitals and pharmacies" to deny critical "sometimes lifesaving" care to patients.

"We stand against this and every regulation that promotes discrimination, erects additional barriers to essential health care, and threatens the integrity of key HHS programs", the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association said in a statement.

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The rule stemmed from a 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump directing his administration to "to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom". "This rule targets women, our LGBTQ communities, and other vulnerable patients, but it puts anyone in an emergency situation at risk". "We will fight against it until all patients get the care they deserve". The HHS rule, he said, is a classic "solution in search of a problem".

The U.S. Justice Department and HHS didn't respond to the Washington Blade's request to comment on the decision immediately after it was handed down.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America - a plaintiff in one of the suits - cheered the ruling.

The Administrative Procedure Act is a federal law that governs the way agencies can propose and establish regulations.

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.

She added, "Everyone deserves to access the health care they need".

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