Judge strikes down new Trump rule on religious objections

August Mulvihill of Norwalk, Iowa, center, holds a sign depicting a wire clothes hanger during a rally at the Statehouse in Des Moines to protest recent abortion bans. On Wednesday, a federal judge in New York struck down a rule letting health care clinicians object to providing abortions and other services on moral or religious grounds.

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a new Trump administration rule that could open the way for more health care workers to refuse to participate in abortions or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department overstepped its authority and went beyond existing law in issuing the rule. He also said that the measure could be costly, burdensome and damaging to emergency care and that the whole rationale for the rule was based on a lie.

He said the department’s claim that there was a significant increase in complaints about workers being forced to violate their conscience was “flatly untrue.” The HHS rule, he said, is a classic “solution in search of a problem.”

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia, three local governments, health organizations and others had sued to block the rule from taking effect Nov. 22, arguing that it would be discriminatory and would interfere with people’s access to health care.

“Today, the Trump administration has been blocked from providing legal cover for discrimination,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood.

Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association, said the HHS rule “could have jeopardized the health of some of our most vulnerable populations.”

But Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, called the ruling “absurd mush” and urged the Trump administration to appeal.

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Health care institutions have long relied on “conscience provisions” first created in 1973 and amended since then that protected health care professionals from carrying out services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs.

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.

It also restricts the ability of employers to inquire about employees’ objections and broadens the definition of health care entities to include pharmacists and medical laboratories.

Thus, the judge warned, a hospital or clinic receptionist who schedules appointments, an elevator operator or an ambulance driver could refuse on moral or religious grounds to do their jobs. He said the rule could force some health care employers to double or triple staff, particularly during emergencies.

Engelmayer said HHS lacked authority to create parts of the rule, including one that said a health care institution’s federal funding can be cut off for violating the rule.

He said it should be left to Congress to decide whether to change the relevant laws.

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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