A federal judge on Wednesday voided the Trump administration’s “conscience rule” that would have allowed health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or other types of care they disagree with on religious or moral grounds.
The judge said the administration’s central justification of a “significant increase” in complaints related to conscience violations “is flatly untrue. This alone makes the agency’s decision to promulgate the rule arbitrary and capricious.”
The judge’s decision stemmed from a lawsuit brought this spring by New York and nearly two dozen mostly Democratic states, municipalities and health advocacy groups. They argued that the rule illegally favored the personal views of health-care workers over the needs of patients and threatened to hobble the ability of state-run health-care facilities to provide effective care.
“The refusal of care rule was an unlawful attempt to allow health care providers to openly discriminate and refuse to provide necessary health care to patients based on providers’ ‘religious beliefs or moral objections,’ ” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the groups, said in a statement Wednesday.
Many physician and health advocacy groups contended that the rule would have disproportionately harmed certain groups of patients, including LGBTQ patients.
“We are heartened by today’s ruling, and we will not stop fighting to prioritize patients’ need for standard medical care over health-care personnels’ personal religious or moral beliefs,” the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association said in a statement.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that they were reviewing the decision and would not comment on pending litigation. The Justice Department declined to comment.
Proposed by department’s Office of Civil Rights more than a year ago, the rule was designed to protect “conscience rights” of health-care providers by boosting enforcement of at least two dozen laws already on the books that allow doctors, nurses, technicians and other providers to opt out of procedures such as abortions or sex-reassignment procedures to which they object.
It was part of the administration’s broader efforts to bolster the rights of religious health providers and restrict abortion access. The administration prevailed in earlier lawsuits against a rule that barred federal family planning grants from going to providers that perform abortions, most notably Planned Parenthood. It has also cut international aid to groups that provide or offer abortions.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the city of San Francisco also brought lawsuits against the rule.