Biden Administration Weighing Fate of Trump Moral Objection Rule

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The Biden administration told a federal appeals court it’s weighing the fate of a Trump-era rule that sought to give health-care workers the right to deny care based on their religious or moral beliefs, a policy that allegedly put transgender individuals and women at risk.

President Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump in November placed many such rules in jeopardy. The former president had touted the Health and Human Services Department rule as part of his broader “religious freedom” agenda before it was struck down by three different courts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan on Friday granted a request by HHS to cancel oral arguments that had been set for March and put on hold consolidated suits brought by Democratic-led states and groups including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“New leadership at HHS is currently in the process of arriving at the agency and plans to reassess the issues that these cases present,” the Justice Department said in the filing. “It would therefore conserve the resources of the court and the parties to remove the consolidated appeals from the court’s argument calendar and place the appeals in abeyance.”

Under Trump, HHS argued the so-called conscience rule was needed to prevent discrimination against religious health-care workers who refuse to provide services that conflict with their beliefs, such as assisting with abortions or procedures for transgender patients.

The states and groups argued the rule put Americans at risk by emboldening religious health-care workers, who could refuse care without prior notice and without providing a referral, and hinder employers’ ability to challenge or prevent such refusals, even in emergency situations.

“Health care employers may not reassign workers who refuse to perform core job responsibilities, or even ask job applicants about their willingness to perform essential aspects of their job,” the plaintiffs said in a July court filing. “Nurses may refuse to answer patients’ questions about their options, receptionists may refuse to schedule appointments, and paramedics may refuse to transport a patient needing emergency care.”

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