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New York Judge Blocks “Conscience Rule”

November 27th, 2019

A judge recently vacated a conscience rule that allows healthcare workers to refuse care or refer in procedures with which they have religious objections.
A judge recently vacated a conscience rule that allows healthcare workers to refuse care or refer in procedures with which they have religious objections.

A New York federal judge recently vacated a “conscience rule” created by the Trump administration that allows health care workers to refuse to participate or refer in procedures with which they have religious objections. This religious objection is most commonly raised in abortion or gender reassignment surgeries. The decision marks an advancement in women’s and LGBTQ rights during an administration that has made several decisions preferring religious freedom over other types of freedom.

The Origin of the Conscience Rule

In May 2019, the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced the issuance of the conscience rule. The rule was created to implement 25 provisions previously passed by Congress that were designed to protect conscience rights in the country. The law was seen by some as a fulfillment of President Trump’s promise to promote as well as protect the fundamental rights of conscience and religious liberty in the country. However, in addition to allowing providers to refuse care, it also allowed them to refuse to refer patients to other providers who would care. It also applied to not just doctors and nurses, but to any person working in a healthcare environment

The Basis of this Decision

The case heard by the judge consolidated three lawsuits including one by New York and 18 other states as well as a lawsuit initiated by Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).

In a decision issued against the rule, United States District Judge Engelmayer found that the measure was created in contrast to the Administrative Procedures Act. The opinion also found that the rule violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act of 1986.

The judge commented that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lacked the authority to impose major portions of the rule. Additionally, the judge found that claims by HHS that it issued the rule because of a “significant increase” in complaints made by healthcare workers were “factually untrue.”

Commentary on the Lawsuit

HHS has not yet commented on the judge’s decision in the case. Instead, HHS, in combination with the Department of Justice, is reviewing the court’s opinion and will not comment on the pending litigation. A spokesperson for NFPRHA, however, has commented that the court’s decision has the effect of safeguarding the public’s health. The American Civil Liberties Union praised the decision as well.

The Importance of this Decision

During a time when the future of reproductive rights remains uncertain, placing additional restrictions on which groups have access to healthcare can be particularly harmful. As a result, several groups perceived the Trump Administration rule as a substantial threat to the well being of people in the country. To opponents, this decision represents an increasing infringement on religious rights.

Documenting Developments in Religion, LGBTQ Rights, and Law

This case portrays the complexity of balancing religious beliefs and freedoms with women’s and LGBTQ people’s freedoms to make their own healthcare decisions in an informed environment. It also exemplifies how the Trump Administration is using the First Amendment to hold up certain religious beliefs as more worthy of protection than others. As the nature of these rights in this country changes, the Universal Life Church’s blog remains focused on keeping its readers up to date.

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