By Lisa Needham
A federal judge in the Southern District of New York threw out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) “conscience” rule last week in a victory for reproductive and LGBTQ rights.
The rule, finalized in May, would have allowed both individual workers and health-care entities to refuse to provide care based on their moral or religious objections. It was sweeping, allowing providers the right to refuse not only health care but any health-related services, such as medical studies and research activities. The rule, which was scheduled to go into effect November 22, would have allowed discrimination based on gender and gender expression and drastically reduced access to reproductive health care, particularly in rural areas where small clinics could be unable to afford duplicate staff to cover employee refusals.
Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in his opinion that HHS had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in imposing its conscience rule by failing to offer sufficient justification for issuing it. The judge characterized the rule as violating federal law in “numerous, fundamental, and far-reaching” ways.
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