Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Judge William Alsup (N.D. Cal.) yesterday vacated the Trump Administrations "conscience rule" designed to allow healthcare workers to decline services if they have a religious objection to a procedure.
We posted recently on a similar ruling out of the Southern District of New York. Judge Alsup's ruling is narrower than the New York ruling, however, and says only that the rule goes well beyond statutory authorization. Both courts vacated the rule in its entirety.
Judge Alsup focused on how the rule's definitions expand conscience protections well beyond the statutory protections. As the court wrote, "[t]hese definitions . . . make the mischief . . . [and are] the heart of the problem."
In particular, the court held that the definitions of "assist in the performance of," "health care entity," "entity," "discriminate," and "referral" expand conscience protections far beyond what the relevant statutes authorize. The court ruled that the conscience rule was therefore contrary to law, and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
The court described the conscience rule's effect this way: "Under the new rule, to preview just one example, an ambulance driver would be free, on religious or moral grounds, to eject a patient en route to a hospital upon learning that the patient needed an emergency abortion. Such harsh treatment would be blessed by the new rule."
Like the New York court, the California court held that the problems with the rule were so pervasive that it had no choice but to vacate the rule in its entirety.
The ruling means that the administration can appeal, or go back to the drawing board and re-write a conscience rule that comports with the law. But the administration can't enforce this rule.