Federal Judge Blocks ‘Conscience Rule’ for Health Care Workers

A federal judge in New York has struck down a Trump administration rule that would have allowed health care workers to abstain from participating in abortions, assisted suicide, gender transition measures and other services due to moral or religious objections.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, appointed to the federal bench by President Obama in 2011, issued a 147-page decision Nov. 6 that said the rule was “unconstitutionally coercive.”

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department had announced the “conscience rule” earlier this year and had planned for it to go into effect Nov. 22.

“Health care entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience,” HHS’ Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said in a press release back on May 2 when the rule was announced as a corrective to an Obamacare provision.

Engelmayer’s ruling arose from a lawsuit brought on by the state of New York, as well as nearly two dozen other liberal-leaning states. They argued that the “conscience rule” illegally favored the personal views of the health care workers over the needs of patients.

HHS reported that it received more than 1,300 complaints in 2018 alone from health care workers claiming workplace discrimination based on their religious beliefs or conscience convictions.

“This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate or refer procedures that violate their conscience,” said Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for religious liberty law firm 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.”

Nick Reaves, legal counsel at Becket Law, agreed: “Doctors shouldn’t have to choose between giving up their faith and being forced out of their profession. In a diverse and free society, we can ensure that everyone will receive needed care without punishing doctors for having a conscience.”

Pro-life supporters argue that Engelmayer’s decision violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Many are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene to restore the act’s original purpose.

“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,” said Allan Parker, founder and president of The Justice Foundation. “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. 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.”

Officials from HHS said in a statement that they are reviewing the decision and will not comment on pending litigation. The Trump administration also has not commented on the ruling, but is expected to appeal.