Federal judge voids Trump's 'conscience rule' for health providers

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A federal judge has ruled against a conscience rule implemented by HHS under President Trump.

A federal judge on Wednesday voided a White House-backed rule making it easier for doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to avoid performing abortions and other medical services on religious or moral grounds.

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.

Engelmayer also ruled that HHS had no authority to terminate federal funds to an agency were it determined the provision was violated.

New York Attorney General Letitia James led the legal challenge, arguing a religious exemption prioritizes the needs of healthcare workers over those of patients - and would make it more hard for state-run facilities to provide care.

Health care institutions have long relied on federal 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.

Engelmayer, who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, wrote that existing laws already define the duties of employers with respect to religious objections.

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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".

Although the litigation also contended the rule is unlawful because it violates the Establishment Clause under the First Amendment prohibiting the US government from aligning with any particular religion, Engelmayer rules "the challenge here fails" in this regrad. "That is so whether the individual objector's qualms derive from a religious or a secular moral conviction".

The judge said that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which issued the final rule last May, did not have the authority to impose major portions of the rule.

Jamie Gliksberg, a senior attorney with the LGBT group Lambda Legal, said the decision against the rule "has likely saved countless lives".

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, including women, LGBT people and people with HIV or AIDS".

The judge's decision consolidated three lawsuits, including one filed by NY state and 22 other states and municipalities, as well as legal action brought by Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).

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