NEW YORK — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a new federal government 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.”
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.