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Federal judge strikes down Trump administration's 'conscience rule' meant to protect pro-life health care workers

'The Court accordingly vacates HHS's 2019 Rule in its entirety'

Sergey Tinyakov/Getty Images

A federal district judge in New York has ruled against a Trump administration rule meant to protect the conscience rights of health care workers.

In a 147-page decision issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer found the administration's "conscience rule" unconstitutional because it uses the withholding of federal funds as an enforcement mechanism and ruled that the department of Health and Human Services "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" in promulgating it. The ruling also claims that the department was invoking powers that weren't granted to it by Congress via federal law.

The measure was supposed to go into effect on Nov. 22. However, Engelmayer — an Obama appointee — decided to vacate it "in its entirety."

The Trump administration announced the rule in May as an effort to protect the rights of people and institutions in the health care field who have moral objections to certain procedures like abortion, the provision of contraception, or "assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing."

"This rule ensures that 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, including the taking of human life," a statement from OCR Director Roger Severino said at the time of rule's introduction. "Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it's the law."

The rule stemmed from a 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump directing his administration to "to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom."

However, critics of the rule claimed that it would make patients vulnerable to being denied care arbitrarily because of a health care provider's personal preferences.

"Trust is the cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship," Leana Wen, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said when the group sued to stop the rule in June. "No one should have to worry if they will get the right care or information because of their providers' personal beliefs."

A statement from an HHS spokesperson to Blaze Media said the department, "together with [the Department of Justice], is reviewing the court's opinion and so will not comment on the pending litigation at this time."

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