New York judge tosses Trump administration’s conscience rule

“Health care is a basic right that should never be subject to political games,” said New York Attorney General Tish James, who brought the case. “Once again, the courts have blocked the Trump Administration from implementing a discriminatory rule that would only hurt Americans.”

The ruling is part of an ongoing series of legal battles as administration officials boost socially conservative policies in federally funded health programs. The most high-profile example is the Title X family planning program, where Planned Parenthood is fiercely fighting new restrictions that have prompted the clinics to withdraw from the program.

HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said the agency along with the Justice Department is reviewing the court’s opinion, “so will not comment on the pending litigation at this time.” Backers of the rule say it protects health care workers from having to violate their personal beliefs.

Backers of the rule say it protects health care workers from having to violate their personal beliefs, a sentiment echoed Wednesday by Stephanie Taub, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, which focuses on religious freedom cases.

“This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate or refer for procedures that violate their conscience,” Traub said in a statement. “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.”

Plaintiffs meanwhile are cheering Engelmayer’s order halting the conscience policy, which they frame as a “health care refusal rule.” The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association was quick to link the case to the group’s legal fight over the administration’s Title X rule.

“We stand against this and every regulation that promotes discrimination, erects additional barriers to essential health care, and threatens the integrity of key HHS programs, including the Title X family planning program,” NFPRHA CEO Clare Coleman said in a statement. “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 judge’s order halting the rule comes less than three weeks after he heard oral arguments from the government and plaintiffs in consolidated litigation against the Trump administration’s policy.

A second case on the conscience rule is pending in a federal district court in California, where a judge during oral arguments last week sounded skeptical about the rule. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup signaled he doesn’t think HHS has the authority to expand health workers’ ability to refuse to provide care on religious or moral grounds.