“The Court vacates the 2019 rule in its entirety,” US District Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in an opinion Wednesday, noting that existing federal conscience provisions “accommodate religious and moral objections to health care services provided by recipients of federal funds” and “recognize and protect undeniably important rights.”
“The Court’s decision today leaves HHS at liberty to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions,” Engelmayer added. “In the future, however, the agency must do so within the confines of the APA and the Constitution.”
The Administrative Procedure Act is a federal law that governs the way agencies can propose and establish regulations.
HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley told CNN in a statement on Wednesday that “HHS, together with DOJ, is reviewing the court’s opinion and so will not comment on the pending litigation at this time.”
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a proponent of religious protection laws, called on Wednesday for the Trump administration to pursue a Supreme Court fight over the rule.
“This decision is absurd mush,” he said in a statement. “The point of the First Amendment — especially the free exercise of religion — is to protect the conscience rights of Americans. In this country, government doesn’t get to tell you that your faith is fine on Sunday at church but not Monday at work.”
“The Trump Administration ought to defend basic conscience rights all the way to the Supreme Court,” he added.
The suit’s plaintiffs cheered the decision as a key win protecting health care access for all patients.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James promised to continue fighting the rule, condemning it as “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.'”
Planned Parenthood acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the rule “put patients’ needs last and threatened their ability to access potentially lifesaving health care. Everyone deserves to access the health care they need.”
“Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “But religious beliefs do not include a license to discriminate, to deny essential care, or to cause harm to others.”
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.