In a blow to the Trump administration, a federal court in Manhattan has knocked down a rule that would make it easier for doctors and other health care workers to refuse care for religious reasons.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled Wednesday that the Department of Health and Human Services, which issued the regulation earlier this year, exceeded its authority and “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in promoting it.
The department’s violations of federal law, according to the judge’s opinion, were “numerous, fundamental, and far-reaching” — and he vacated the rule entirely, just over two weeks before it was set to take effect Nov. 22.
The Trump administration had asserted that the rule would give health care providers the freedom to opt out of providing care or services — such as abortions — that violate their conscience. Employers that did not comply with the rule could have had their federal funding withdrawn.
“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,” Roger Severino director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, argued in a written statement when the regulation was issued in early May.
The rule’s critics, however, saw it as a means of allowing health care workers to circumvent rules against discrimination. And they quickly took the Trump administration to court — with more than two dozen states, cities and organizations such as Planned Parenthood filing lawsuits against Severino and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Those suits were later consolidated into one case, which Engelmayer oversaw.
There’s also another lawsuit against this rule, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs in that consolidated case include the state of California, Santa Clara County, and organizations such as Lamba Legal. It wasn’t immediately clear what Wednesday’s ruling means for the case in California.
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