States Defeat Moral-Objection Rule for Health Care

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pauses while speaking during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge blocked an attempt Wednesday by the Trump administration to let medical workers refuse services, including abortions, based on their religious beliefs and moral objections.

In a 147-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer vacated the refusal-of-care rule put out last year by the Department of Health and Human Services as unconstitutional.

“HHS’s spending threat here is coercive given the scale of funding it jeopardizes and the new standards of conduct the Rule imposes,” the opinion states.

A “court need not know the precise size of a state’s overall pie to conclude that the slice of federal health care funding put at risk by the Rule is coercisvely large,” the Obama-appointed Engelmayer added in a footnote.

Noting that the rule puts billions of dollars of health care funds in jeopardy, Judge Engelmayer said the department’s rule conflicts with Title VII prohibitions on workplace discrimination.

Engelmayer also found the department had failed to consider how the conscience rule would affect health care delivery in emergency medical situations.

HHS originally scheduled its rule to take effect on July 22, 2019, but agreed to delay the effective date until Nov. 22, 2019, during the litigation of the three consolidated complaints brought by a coalition of states, cities and health care groups including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.

The lawsuits sought to block the rule as “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Representatives for the Department of Health and Human Services declined Wednesday to comment.

Earlier this week, the department announced that it would be rolling back Obama-era regulations that protected agency funding decisions against discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the states challenging the refusal-of-care rule, commended Judge Engelmayer’s decision Wednesday.

“Health care is a basic right that should never be subject to political games. Once again, the courts have blocked the Trump administration from implementing a discriminatory rule that would only hurt Americans,” James said in a statement. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to protect access to health care and protect the rights of all individuals,” she added.

The Trump administration has lost the overwhelming majority of federal lawsuits accusing it of violating the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that government agencies follow established rules for issuing policies on a rational basis.

In March, the Washington Post reported that APA cases comprise two-thirds of lawsuits against the administration, which has a win rate of about 6%.

%d bloggers like this: