A federal judge Wednesday overturned a new Trump administration rule that protected the freedom of conscience of health care workers who are opposed to procedures such as abortion, suicide and gender-change procedures on religious or moral grounds.
The Department of Health and Human Services finalized the new rule in May, saying it protects “individuals and health care entities from discrimination” on the basis of conscience and fulfilled President Trump’s “promise to promote and protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious liberty.”
But U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, who was nominated by President Obama, ruled HHS exceeded its authority and that the rule was not needed.
“The Rule represents a classic solution in search of a problem,” Engelmayer wrote in a 147-page decision.
He acknowledged the rule protects some “important rights” and said the decision leaves HHS at liberty “to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions.” But future rules from HHS must fit “within the confines” of the Administrative Procedure Act – a law that governs federal agencies – and within “the Constitution.”
In May, HHS said the new rule would protect health care workers “from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.”
The lawsuit was brought by the state of New York and more than 20 other states and cities.
Pro-choice groups applauded the decision.
“We are heartened by today’s ruling, and we will not stop fighting to prioritize patients’ need for standard medical care over health-care personnels’ personal religious or moral beliefs,” the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association said in a statement.
Religious liberty groups, though, said the decision removes much-needed protections for health care workers.
“This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that violate their conscience,” said Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The Trump Administration’s HHS protections would ensure that healthcare professionals are free to work consistent with their religious beliefs while providing the best care to their patients.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.