Federal judges in New York and Washington State have struck down a rule from the Trump administration which would have made it legal for healthcare professionals to opt out of providing care based on their religious beliefs. The rule was estimated to cost the federal government $394 million in the first year and $1 billion within five years for additional training and legal advice for doctors who decide to decline services.
The state of New York as well as 18 other states and organizations sued over the Trump rule, which was scheduled to go into effect on November 22.
If the doctor’s religious beliefs did not align with the medical request, the rule would have allowed them to opt out of services like:
- Stem cell treatments
- Doctor-assisted suicide and other end-of-life care
- Reproductive healthcare like contraception and abortion
If passed, the rule would have extended to more than 600,000 healthcare facilities like:
- Healthcare clinics
- Dentist offices
- Family-planning clinics
- Medical schools
- Other healthcare facilities that receive government funding
Additionally, the rule would have greatly affected LGBT patients, especially transgender patients seeking hormone therapy and anyone seeking treatment for HIV/AIDS.
Roger Severino, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), introduced the rule in May. He said, “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care [sic] field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience.”
The court decisions
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the organization that defeated the administration’s rule in court. Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement, “Today’s decision is an important victory against the Trump Administration’s cruel and unlawful attempts to roll back critical patient protections. Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but religious beliefs do not include a license to discriminate, to deny essential care, or to cause harm to others.”
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote, “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.”
Washington Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, said after the ruling, “This rule would have disproportionately harmed rural and working poor Washington families, who have no alternatives to their local health care providers, as well as LGBTQ individuals, who already face discrimination when they seek medical care.”
Both judges also noted the rule would have allowed the administration to cut off Congressionally-approved funding (as much as $10 billion per year) for providers who did not comply with the rule.