Published: Thu, November 07, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Trump's 'conscience' rule for healthcare workers struck down by US judge

Trump's 'conscience' rule for healthcare workers struck down by US judge

A federal judge in NY today struck down the Trump administration's so-called conscience rights rule that would have allowed healthcare workers to decline to provide services that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs.

"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. NY attorney General Letitia James led the lawsuit on behalf of 19 states and the District of Columbia, which argued that the policy allows Americans to "openly discriminate and refuse to provide necessary health care to patients based on providers" "religious beliefs or moral objections'".

The 147-page decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer declaring the so-called "conscience" rule unconstitutional came in a lawsuit by NY and 22 other states and municipalities.

Plaintiffs challenging the rule included Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states where Trump prevailed in the 2016 presidential election.

Judge Paul Engelmayer, an Obama appointee, sided against the Trump administration.

Opponents had dubbed the rule "the healthcare refusal" rule and argued in lawsuits filed last spring after the HHS issued the final rule that it would reduce access to healthcare, particularly for women, LGBTQ individuals and other vulnerable populations.

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.

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Neither the Health and Human Services Department, nor the Department of Justice immediately responded to a request for comment.

"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".

"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 Department of Health and Human Services lacked authority to create major portions of its rule, including to terminate an entity's federal health funding if it violates one of the provisions.

Engelmayer ruled Wednesday in Manhattan.

'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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