Judge Voids GOP “Conscience” Rules Letting Religious Health Workers Discriminate November 6, 2019

Judge Voids GOP “Conscience” Rules Letting Religious Health Workers Discriminate

Back in May, on the National Day of Prayer, Donald Trump announced the finalization of a rule that would allow doctors, nurses, insurance providers, and employers to refuse service if it violated their religious beliefs. (It came a year after he first said that would happen.)

In short, he wanted to take the bigotry of evangelical Christian bakers and apply it to the medical industry.

Conservatives celebrated the decision because, to them, Christian doctors rejecting patients was more important than patients getting the health care they needed. Christianity Today, a publication that believes committed gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society,” said the move was a “major religious freedom victory, particularly for pro-life evangelicals.”

In theory, an ambulance driver could refuse to drive a woman with an ectopic pregnancy to a hospital to obtain a necessary abortion… even if her life was in danger. Pharmacists could refuse to fill birth control prescriptions or give drugs to induce a miscarriage even if a patient’s doctor had approved it.

The actual “rule” came in the form of a 440-page document laying out new “conscience regulations.” All hospitals, clinics, universities, etc. that received federal funding (including Medicare and Medicaid) would have to say they’re complying with the “conscience” rules in order to keep receiving money. It would have gone into effect 60 days after getting published in the Federal Register, on November 22. (Roger Severino, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights used to work as an attorney for the right-wing group Becket Fund.)

Forget the Hippocratic Oath. The Trump Oath was to “Do no harm, unless your God is okay with it, in which case harm whoever the hell you want.”

Here’s the good news: Today, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer struck down the rules as unconstitutional, nullifying all 440 pages in their entirety.

“Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it,” Engelmayer wrote in a 147-page decision.

The judge also said the rule conflicted with federal laws governing the obligations of employers to accommodate workers’ religious objections, and hospitals to provide emergency treatment to patients who could not afford it.

HHS countered that the rule would help enforce “conscience protection” laws that have been on the books for decades.

Engelmayer said these provisions “recognize and protect undeniably important rights,” but the government’s rulemaking “was sufficiently shot through with glaring legal defects.”

The ACLU, which sued the administration over the rules, celebrated the victory:

“Today’s decision is an important victory against the Trump Administration’s cruel and unlawful attempts to roll back critical patient protections,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU. “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.

“Today, the court took an important step toward safeguarding the public’s health by striking down the Trump administration’s health care refusal rule,” said Clare Coleman, [National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association] president and CEO. “This unlawful rule is an outright attack on the health and wellness of millions of people across the country, and the court heard clear and compelling arguments about the harm communities face when our health care system is distorted to the point in which a patient’s health care needs are not paramount.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State also expressed gratitude to the judge:

“We’re thankful Judge Engelmayer blocked President Trump’s dangerous Denial of Care Rule from going into effect. We urge the federal judges reviewing our cases in California and Maryland, as well as the judge in the Washington case, to reach a conclusion as swiftly as possible and send a clear message to the Trump administration that this rule poses an imminent threat to public health,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United.

“The Denial of Care Rule is a stark violation of religious freedom — no patient should be denied medical treatment because of someone else’s religious beliefs. The court’s decision today protects both religious freedom and patients’ health,” Laser said.

The Trump administration has taken a lot of moves to make access to affordable health care as difficult as possible. Since Republicans failed to repeal the ACA, he’s making sure Christians still have power to hurt people. Thankfully, this judge refused to let them get away with it.

It’s a victory for public health and a loss for Christians longing for the opportunity to hurt people.

(Featured image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)


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