Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a statement following Thursday's ruling, saying that "all Washingtonians deserve to receive the full range of health care services" and that the district court recognized this.
"This rule would have disproportionately harmed rural and working poor Washington families, who have no alternatives to their local health care providers, as well as LGBTQ individuals, who already face discrimination when they seek medical care," Ferguson said.
In allowing health care workers and entities to opt out of providing certain procedures, the rule unfairly discriminated against people seeking abortions, gender-transition surgeries, and other procedures, he argued.
The HHS rule "Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority" drew upon existing conscience protections that had already been enacted by bipartisan majorities in Congress, and provided for enforcement of these protections in HHS-funded health care programs.
Under the rule, health care providers, entities, and workers would be prevented "from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide," HHS said when the rule was finalized in May.
HHS also issued the rule to clarify the conscience rights of health care employees and institutions so they might not "feel compelled" to participate in a procedure against their moral convictions or leave the industry altogether.
In the wake of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, Congress had begun enacting laws and amendments to provide some protections for health care workers or entities opposed to participating in abortions and sterilizations, in federally-funded programs. Provisions such as the Weldon Amendment, the Church Amendments, and the Coats-Snowe Amendment were examples of these protections.
In 2008, at the close of the Bush administration, the HHS also issued a conscience protection rule for health care workers that was rescinded by the Obama administration.