The Trump administration that has always had a strong viewpoint on healthcare was in a way defied by a federal judge on Wednesday. US District Court in Southern District of New York struck down the White House-backed rule that allowed medical providers to carry out medical procedures based on religious or moral objections.
In a 147-page decision, Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan said that the “conscience” rule was unconstitutionally coercive because it permitted the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hold back billions of dollars of federal funds for violations.
“Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it,” wrote Engelmayer.
The judge, who was appointed by former President Obama, also stated that the rule was “arbitrary and capricious”. He highlighted that the federal laws governing the employers’ obligations to accommodate workers’ religious views conflicted with hospitals responsibility to provide emergency treatment to poor patients. The rule restricted medical providers for procedures like abortion, assisted suicide or sterilization at hundreds of thousands of health organizations.
The decision covered a lawsuit filed by New York City, New York state and 21 other states and municipalities, which are led by Democrats or often lean Democratic. Besides, two lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers were also included. However, California has filed its own lawsuit challenging the rule.
The rule that has been voided in its entirety, is expected to take effect on November 22. A spokeswoman for HHS stated that the agency and the Department of Justice are reviewing the Engelmayer’s decision.
President Donald Trump has been focusing to expand religious liberty and making it a priority, as he will be running for re-election next year. The conscience rule proposed by his administration has drawn support from abortion opponents. On the other hand, critics said that rule would deprive gay, transgender and other patients of the required healthcare, as providers might deem them less worthy of treatment.
In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said that the rule would have encouraged healthcare providers to “openly discriminate” against some patients. “Health care is a basic right that should never be subject to political games,” she said.
Engelmayer’s decision was also welcomed by Planned Parenthood. “Everyone deserves to access the health care they need,” said Acting President Alexis McGill Johnson. “This rule put patients’ needs last.”
The Judge also rebuked HHS for its “factually untrue” and “demonstrably false” claim that there had been a “significant increase” in complaints about conscience protection violations.
The rule was challenged by plaintiffs from Chicago and Washington D.C., as well as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states where Trump prevailed in the 2016 presidential election.