Judge Strikes Down HHS Rule Made to Protect Medical Workers Who Oppose Abortion, Euthanasia

Michael W. Chapman | November 7, 2019 | 11:20am EST
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(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) -- A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a new regulation from the Trump administration's Health and Human Services Department (HHS) that would have protected medical workers and facilities that objected to abortion or euthanasia, and other procedures, on religious or moral grounds. 

The rule was scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 22. It would have protected those workers -- doctors, nurses, pharmacists -- and medical facilities from discrimination. It also would allow for federal funds to those facilities to be severed, if they did not comply with the conscience protections detailed in the regulation.

Woman undergoes abortion of her child. (Getty Images)
Woman undergoes abortion of her child. (Getty Images)

"This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that violate their conscience," said Sephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute.

"The Trump administration's HHS protections would ensure that health care professionals are free to work consistent with their religious beliefs while providing the best care to their patients," said Taub. 

Judge Paul Engelmayer, an Obama appointee for the Southern District of New York, vacated the HHS rule "in its entirety," his order reads. 

Challenging the HHS rule in the lawsuit were 19 states, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. 

As the court states, "The Rule purports to interpret and provide for the implementation of more than 30 statutory provisions that recognize the right of an individual or entity to abstain from participation in medical procedures, programs, services, or research activities on account of a religious or moral objection."

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer. (YouTube screenshot)
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer. (YouTube screenshot)

More specifically, the rule is designed "to accommodate religious and moral objections to health care services provided by recipients of federal funds.  These provisions principally, although not exclusively, address objections to abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide, in addition to counseling and referrals related to these services."

In his 147-page ruling, Engelmayer concluded that the HHS overstepped its authority; it apparently violated rule-making procedures detailed in the Administrative Procedure Act; lacked the authority to define key parts of the rule, such as "discrimination" and "health care entity"; did not have the authority to sever all federal funds from an entity; conflicted with parts of the Civil Rights Act, Title VII; and did not provide clear, substantial evidence to support a need for the new rule. 

"[I]t is clear that HHS’s justification for the Rule—that a 'significant increase' in complaints called for agency action—is wholly unsupported by the record," said judge Engelmayer. "HHS has promulgated a Rule that did not respond to any documented problem."

"The Rule represents a classic solution in search of a problem," he said. 

“The court’s finding that the rule was promulgated arbitrarily and capriciously calls into question the validity and integrity of the rule-making venture itself,” said the judge. 

"The Court accordingly vacates HHS’s 2019 Rule in its entirety," concluded Engelmayer. 

In a statement, the attorney general for New York, Letitia James, said, “The refusal of care 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."

A baby killed by saline-injection abortion. (Priests for Life.)
A baby killed by saline-injection abortion. (Priests for Life.)

Alexis McGill, the acting president of Planned Parenthood, said, “Today, the Trump administration was blocked from providing legal cover for discrimination. As the federal district court made clear, the administration acted outside its authority and made false claims to try to justify this rule."

“No one should have to worry they will be denied the medical care they need simply because of their health care provider’s religious, moral, or personal beliefs," said McGill. "At Planned Parenthood, we will always fight for your access to the health care you need, including safe, legal abortion — no matter what you look like, where you are from, or who you love.”

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D., a policy adviser with the Catholic Association, said, “The Administration’s rule seeks to protect physicians, technicians and other health care workers from being forced to participate in procedures they believe are wrong, such as those that end human lives, like abortion and suicide."

"Health care workers go into medicine with noble ideals and to preserve human lives, not end them," said Christie. "They deserve the freedom to act in accordance with their conscience, especially in matters as serious as life and death.”  

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Allan Parker, president of the Justice Foundation, said,  “Today’s ruling by Judge Engelmayer is wrong and morally reprehensible. Every American, including health care clinicians, has the right to practice their moral and religious beliefs and should not be forced to perform an act that many physicians find repugnant."

"It is time to not only protect the conscience rule for all health care clinicians, but to end this horrific crime against humanity by overturning Roe and Doe," said Parker.  "To this date, over a quarter of a million people have signed The Moral Outcry Petition calling on the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn these cases.”

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, "The number of entities covered by the [HHS] rule would have included more than 600,000 hospitals, dentists’ offices, ambulance services and others that get federal funds. It also included family planning clinics, community groups that provide HIV treatment, state and local governments, and medical schools."

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