Judge Strikes Down New Trump Rule On Religious Objections

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FILE - In this Tuesday, May 21, 2019 file photo, August Mulvihill, of Norwalk, Iowa, center, holds a sign depicting a wire clothes hanger during a rally at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, to protest recent abortion bans. On Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, a federal judge in New York struck down a rule letting health care clinicians object to providing abortions and other services on moral or religious grounds. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a new Trump administration rule that could open the way for more health care workers to refuse to participate in abortions or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department overstepped its authority and went beyond existing law in issuing the rule. He also said that the measure could be costly, burdensome and damaging to emergency care and that the whole rationale for the rule was based on a lie.

He said the department’s claim that there was a significant increase in complaints about workers being forced to violate their conscience was “flatly untrue.” The HHS rule, he said, is a classic “solution in search of a problem.”

An HHS spokeswoman had no comment.

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia, three local governments, health organizations and others had sued to block the rule from taking effect Nov. 22, arguing that it would be discriminatory and would interfere with people’s access to health care.

“Today, the Trump administration has been blocked from providing legal cover for discrimination,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood. “As the federal district court made clear, the administration acted outside its authority and made false claims to try to justify this rule.”

Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association, said the HHS rule “could have jeopardized the health of some of our most vulnerable populations, including women, LGBT people and people with HIV or AIDS.”

But Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, called the ruling “absurd mush” and urged the Trump administration to appeal.

Health care institutions have long relied on federal Conscience Provisions first created in 1973 and amended since then that protected health care professionals from carrying out services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs.

The new HHS rule broadens the list of health care personnel who can refuse to participate, expanding it to those who counsel, refer, train or make arrangements for a medical procedure.

It also restricts the ability of employers to inquire about employees’ objections and broadens the definition of health care entities to include pharmacists and medical laboratories.

Thus, the judge warned, a hospital or clinic receptionist who schedules appointments, an elevator operator or an ambulance driver could refuse on moral or religious grounds to do their jobs.

He said the rule could force some health care employers to double or triple staff, particularly during emergencies.

“These limits have clear potential to inhibit the employer’s ability to organize workplace arrangements to avoid inefficiencies and dislocations,” Engelmayer said.

Engelmayer, who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, said HHS lacked authority to create major portions of the rule, including a provision that said a health care institution’s federal funding can be cut off for violating the measure.

He said it should be left to Congress to decide whether to change the laws regarding employers’ duty to accommodate religious objections.

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18 COMMENTS

    • He said it’s up to Congress to enact a law, not an agency of the executive branch. It may get overturned but conservative and liberal judges have employed that rationale.

  1. No liberal am I; but I do see the Judge’s point. If an employee is anti gay, under Trump’s Executive Order he could refuse to treat someone who is effeminate. And the employee couldn’t be discriminated against because of his beliefs, including during hiring, wreaking havoc in the medical field.

    • That’s a lie this rule is to protect religious people from having to perform or participate in any way in an abortion, a so called gender reassignment, or an assisted suicide. This judge is another activist Obama judge who will be over turned on appeal.

  2. Too many of you fail to understand the role of “tolerance” in our Constitutional scheme. The Constitution protects my right to religious practice and observance from governmental interference; but the Constitution does not allow me to discriminate against others in the public sphere simply because my religion defines those others as evil. And the Torah does not say anything contrary to this.

    I am personally opposed to abortion. That said, someone show me where the Torah supports the position that a physician operating in a public hospital has any obligation or right to refuse to perform a legal abortion? Or to refuse treatment to a person who is gay?

    There are fundamentalist Christians who still believe Jews killed their savior, and that Jews are an evil race condemned to perdition. Should the Constitution allow one of their physicians to refuse treatment to a Jew?

    • Nope. Dina d’malchusa dina applies only to financial and similar matters, not to things that are actually assur. If a legal abortion is illegal under Torah law – and many are – then no, a Jewish physician must refuse to do it, same thing as he would have to do for euthanasia or sterilizing males or so forth. Your line about refusing treatment to someone who is gay is of course a strawman, but typical of your style of argument.

      • Do you actually know when Torah permits an abortion? Or are you echoing the American anti-abortion “movement?” Or how about capital punishment? Can a Jewish DA prosecute a death penalty case? Surely not under your interpretation of Halacha. Gay issue a “straw man?” Not so “straw” vis a vis the wedding cake case, which was championed by all the Alt-Yidden on VIN. Your partisanship is oozing out from under your yarmulka.

        • At least all that’s oozing out from under my yarmulka is partisanship, while from yours, it’s brains that are oozing out, and whether there’s a yarmulka above them is highly debatable…

          Yes, abortion is permitted in certain cases according to halachah. No, it is not permitted in the vast majority of cases, particularly after 40 days of gestation (and some poskim prohibit it even before that, on grounds of hashchasas zera). You could start by looking at Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat, part 2, no. 69, and then see if you still think that I’m “echoing the American” anything.

          Yes, a baker should have the right to ask someone to get his cake somewhere else, and it is bigoted of you to say otherwise. So fortunately, the so-called “Alt-Yidden” (a very appropriate term, actually, because we follow the “alte” Yiddishkeit, not your simulacrum of it) have the common sense and the decency to say so.

    • Treating a person gay or not is not the same as performing an abortion, if you think that’s the same than you are willfully ignorant. I have the religious freedom not to do anything against my religion.

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