Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Federal appeals court protects religious doctors from performing gender transition care, abortions

A federal appeals court on Friday blocked President Biden’s Health and Human Services mandate that would have forced religious doctors and hospitals to perform transgender procedures — including on children.

In a unanimous ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the three-judge panel said the lower court was right to issue a permanent injunction that protects a healthcare network of nearly 20,000 religious doctors and medical providers from performing abortions and transgender care.

The Catholic hospital group had argued the Biden administration’s rule issued through the Health and Human Services Department requiring medical providers not to discriminate and deny care “on the basis of sex” didn’t only mean biological gender — but also extended to LGBTQ individuals.

The religious objectors argued the requirement ran afoul of their religious rights, pointing to the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, and claimed it would have required them to even perform transgender medical services on children.

“We have recognized that the loss of freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, RLUIPA, and RFRA all constitute per se irreparable harm,” wrote Judge Don Willett, a Trump appointee, granting the group protection.

He was joined by Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, a Bush appointee, and Judge Kurt Englehardt, Trump appointee.

The litigation previously began under the Obama administration, which issued a rule in 2016 under the Affordable Care Act that required health care groups that received federal funds to not discriminate against individuals seeking to end pregnancies or on the basis of gender identity when seeking medical services.

After two changes in administrations, the lawsuit is still pending since the Biden administration has renewed the rule, pointing to the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County.  

In that case, the high court said employers could not discriminate against LGBTQ employees, pointing to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and interpreting protection from “sex” discrimination to extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lawyers representing the religious medical professionals applauded the 5th Circuit’s move on Friday.

“This ruling is a major victory for conscience rights and compassionate medical care in America,” said Joseph Davis, counsel at Becket, a religious liberty group representing the physicians. “Doctors cannot do their jobs and comply with the Hippocratic Oath if the government requires them to perform harmful, irreversible procedures against their conscience and medical expertise.” 

A spokesperson from the Biden Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra.

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