The Corner

Law & the Courts

Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Conscience Protections on Abortion

Signs at the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., in 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

A federal judge in New York has struck down a Trump-administration rule that would have protected the First Amendment rights of health-care workers with moral or religious objections to abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and elective sterilization. The rule, put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services, was scheduled to take effect later this month.

Judge Paul A. Engelmayer issued a 147-page decision blocking the rule, which had been challenged by 19 states and a number of abortion-advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood. “The Court has found that HHS’s stated justification for undertaking rulemaking in the first place—a purported ‘significant increase’ in civilian complaints relating to the conscience provisions—was factually untrue,” Engelmayer wrote.

The judge also deemed the provision improperly coercive, criticizing HHS for enforcing the policy with the threat to withhold federal funding from health-care providers that compelled their workers to perform procedures in violation of their beliefs. “Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it,” he wrote.

The rule would have required clinics and research institutions that receive federal funding from programs including Medicare and Medicaid to “submit written assurances and certifications of compliance” with federal religious-freedom and conscience-protection laws.

In a statement today, New York attorney general Letitia James called the HHS rule “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.’”

The scare quotes James implements here underscore precisely why the Trump administration policy was so necessary, and why today’s ruling is another example of harmful legislating from the bench. For those who have deemed certain procedures — abortion chief among them — an essential human right, there can be no protest or resistance from Americans who refuse to take part on the grounds that it kills a human being.

Such objections are, to the progressive zealot, mere “religious beliefs” that can be mocked in scare quotes and that must be tossed aside when duty calls. Blocking conscience protections such as those implemented by HHS not only allows health-care providers to get away with coercing employees into violating their consciences, but it increases the odds that plenty of Americans — religious ones, in particular — will be driven out of the health-care field entirely.

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