Second federal judge strikes down Trump 'conscience protection' rule for health care providers

A federal judge in Washington State on Thursday struck down a Trump administration rule intended to allow health providers to refuse to provide care based on moral or religious reasons.

The latest ruling marks the second time in as many days that a judge has ruled against the administration’s policy, and “provides an extra layer of protection against appeal” by the Trump administration, said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Washington was one of a number of states, cities and advocacy groups — including New York, California, San Francisco, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood — that had sued over the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect Nov. 22. 

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Under the rule, if the federal government believed Washington, its health care institutions, or other recipients of federal health care funds violated the rule, the administration would be allowed to cut off all health care funding to the state — more than $10 billion per year, the state said.

The Trump administration had touted the rule as an important protection for people’s religious beliefs, specifically citing abortion. 

“The court agreed that all Washingtonians deserve to receive the full range of health care services,” Ferguson said in a statement. “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.”

The rule finalized broad policies meant to protect health workers and institutions from having to violate their religious or moral beliefs by participating in abortions, providing contraception, sterilization or other procedures.

The rule was part of a series of policies outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office for Civil Rights to reshape the agency to align with religious conservatives.

Republicans and anti-abortion groups often complained that the Obama administration did not enforce federal laws that protect health workers and institutions from having to violate their religious or moral beliefs by participating in abortions or other procedures.

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