Judge strikes down Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights

A federal judge in New York on Wednesday struck down a Trump administration rule that would make it easier for health care providers to refuse to perform services, such as abortions, that conflict with their religious beliefs. 

District Judge Paul Engelmayer invalidated the rule on multiple grounds, including a finding that it violated the Constitution’s spending clause by allowing the administration to cut off funds approved by Congress to providers who do not comply with the rule by forcing employees to perform services to which they object. 

A number of states, including New York, as well as Planned Parenthood and other groups had sued over the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 22. 

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They argued the rule would allow for discrimination in the name of religious freedom. 

“Today’s decision is an important victory against the Trump Administration’s cruel and unlawful attempts to roll back critical patient protections,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but religious beliefs do not include a license to discriminate, to deny essential care, or to cause harm to others.”

The Trump administration had touted the rule as important protection for people’s religious beliefs, specifically citing abortion. 

“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,” Department of Health and Human Services official Roger Severino said when the rule was proposed in May. 

The Trump administration has taken a range of actions that have been hailed by abortion opponents and denounced by abortion rights defenders, including limiting federal funding under the Title X family planning program for providers who perform abortions.