Judge Rules Against “Conscience” Rule in a Blow to the Trump Administration

The “Conscience” rule protecting doctors who deny care for religious reasons was struck down in a federal court.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer struck down a rule that would allow doctors and other health care workers to refuse care for religious reasons and claimed that the Department of Health and Human Services overstepped its authority, according to NPR.

The Manhattan judge ruled that the department violated federal law and “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in promoting the “Conscience” rule.

While the Trump administration argued that the rule would give health care providers the freedom to opt out of providing care or services that violate their conscience, it was additionally a means of allowing health care workers to circumvent rules against discrimination.

More than two dozen states, cities, and organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, filed lawsuits against Roger Severino, director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, and Alex Azar, HHS’s Secretary.

The “Conscience” rule was meant to bolster “religious freedom” in health care and was justified by a sharp increase in complaints concerning rights violations. Typically, the office would receive an average of one complaint per year, but it jumped to 343 last year.

According to Engelmayer’s ruling, almost 80% of the complaints were about vaccinations, unrelated to health care workers and their religious beliefs in providing care.

The judge, in his opinion, wrote that only 21, or 6%, of the complaints were potentially related to providers’ moral or religious objections. “Even assuming that all 20 or 21 complaints implicated the Conscience Provisions, those 20 or 21 are a far cry from the 343 that the Rule declared represented a ‘significant increase’ in complaints.”

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Image credit: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr

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