By Calvin Freiburger
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration cannot enforce a rule protecting healthcare workers from being forced to participate in abortions, claiming it was “unconstitutional.”
In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized the rule, which “ensures that HHS implements the full set of tools appropriate for enforcing” laws that exempt healthcare workers from “having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.” It also “clarifies what covered entities need to do to comply with applicable conscience provisions,” “requires applicants for HHS federal financial assistance to provide assurances and certifications of compliance,” and “specifies compliance obligations for covered entities.”
Twenty-three states and municipalities sued, leading to the latest ruling, Reuters reports. In his ruling, Engelmayer did not affirm every pro-abortion claim against the rule, but ultimately invalidated it by agreeing with contentions that it impermissibly “attaches retroactive and ambiguous conditions to their receipt of federal funds” and is “impermissibly coercive” toward state and local governments that would be tasked with enforcing it as a condition of federal funds.
The judge granted that the “Conscience Provisions” of federal law “recognize and protect undeniably important rights,” and stressed that his ruling “leaves HHS at liberty to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions.” But he framed his decision largely on technical grounds, claiming that this particular rule was “shot through with glaring legal defects.”
The Trump administration did not immediately comment on the ruling, but is expected to appeal.
Trump has made religious freedom a priority of his administration, from putting social conservatives like HHS Office for Civil Rights director Roger Severino and Vice President Mike Pence in top positions, to lifting the Obama administration’s conscience mandate and establishing a White House office tasked with fielding the concerns of religious Americans and monitoring threats as they arise.