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MANHATTAN — A federal judge nominated to the bench by then-President Barack Obama has struck down a rule recently issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that sought to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals and others who have objections to abortion or physician-assisted suicide.
Judge Paul Engelmayer of the Southern District of New York concluded that the new rule too rigidly places states at jeopardy of losing federal funding for non-compliance with the conscience protections.
“The rule … newly conditions all HHS funding, regardless of source, on compliance with the Conscience Provisions. And, by adding the substantive conditions announced in the rule, the rule exposes a state to a heightened risk, in the middle of a funding period, that funds previously allocated will be withheld or terminated,” he wrote.
“A state that has organized its programs (e.g., its Medicaid program) in anticipation of a promised outlay of funds could find all its HHS funding streams cut off for its failure to adapt,” Engelmayer worried. “The state, however, had no way to know at the time it accepted such funds that HHS would later claim the right to close these spigots based on a breach of a Conscience Provision.”
He also determined that the government could not provide enough proof that the rule was necessary.
“HHS, in this litigation, admitted that only a tiny fraction of the complaints that its rule invoked as support were even relevant to the Conscience Provisions,” Engelmayer wrote. “HHS’s central factual
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