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Judge Strikes Down Rule Allowing Doctors To Opt Out of Performing Abortions for Moral or Religious Reasons

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A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a proposed rule designed to allow health care workers to cite moral or religious reasons for not participating in abortions.

Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said the rule was too heavy-handed, because it linked the policy to aid that could be withheld from health care providers unless they complied with the rule, NBC News reported.

“Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it,” Engelmayer wrote, according to Reuters, calling the rule “arbitrary and capricious.”

He also said the Trump administration’s argument that there was a vast number of cases to justify the rule was wrong.

“Where H.H.S. claimed that the rule was justified by complaints made to it, the administrative record reflects a yawning evidentiary gap,” he wrote.

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In its reporting on the case, The New York Times included a snippet of discussion between Engelmayer and a Justice Department lawyer during oral arguments.

Engelmayer had posed the hypothetical question of what might happen if an ambulance driver with objections to abortion was transporting a pregnant woman through Central Park but learned she was planning to end an ectopic pregnancy.

“The driver tells her to get out in the middle of the park?” Engelmayer said.

Engelmayer, who worked for the Department of Justice during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, was appointed to his post by former President Barack Obama.

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The case consolidated lawsuits from New York City, New York state and Planned Parenthood.

“The refusal of care rule was an unlawful attempt to allow health care providers to openly discriminate and refuse to provide necessary health care to patients based on providers’ ‘religious beliefs or moral objections,’” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in response to the ruling.

“Today’s decision is an important victory against the Trump administration’s cruel and unlawful attempts to roll back critical patient protections,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney for the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC.

“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.”

Those who supported the rule said that the judge’s decision did in fact erode religious protections.

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“This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate or refer for procedures that violate their conscience,” Stephanie Taub, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, told NBC.

“The Trump administration’s HHS protections would ensure that health care professionals are free to work consistent with their religious beliefs while providing the best care to their patients,” she said.

Allan Parker, founder, and president of The Justice Foundation, agreed.

“Every American, including health care clinicians, has the right to practice their moral and religious beliefs and should not be forced to perform an act that many physicians find repugnant,” Parker said in a statement, according to CBN.

“It is time to not only protect the conscience rule for all health care clinicians but to end this horrific crime against humanity by overturning Roe and Doe,” he said.

“To this date, over a quarter of a million people have signed The Moral Outcry Petition calling on the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn these cases,” Parker added.

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