A federal court this week blocked the Biden administration’s mandate requiring doctors and faith-based hospitals to perform abortions and transgender surgeries.
The ruling was handed down as the Supreme Court grappled with whether to weigh in on a similar legal battle between a Catholic hospital and a transgender man over his hysterectomy.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled Monday that the administration cannot require doctors and providers to violate tenets of their faith to perform or offer transgender procedures and services for patients.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration — and now the Biden administration — has mandated that providers offer such treatments or face financial penalties and litigation.
The Texas case was brought by the Franciscan Alliance, a network of religious hospitals, and associations of roughly 20,000 medical professionals. They successfully argued that the requirement infringed on their rights under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law that protects religious liberty.
“Christian Plaintiffs contend that violation of their statutory rights … is an irreparable harm. The Court agrees and concludes that enforcement of the 2021 Interpretation forces Christian Plaintiffs to face civil penalties or to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions contrary to their religious beliefs — a quintessential irreparable injury,” Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote in the 23-page opinion.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment about the case. It has roughly 60 days to decide whether or not to appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Becket Fund, a religious liberty legal group that represented the health care providers, noted that this is the third time a federal court has struck down such a policy.
A federal court in North Dakota halted the administration’s transgender rule in 2016, and another federal court struck it down in 2019.
The litigation was renewed after President Biden came into office and the administration said it would revisit the rule.
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said the ruling is a win for conscience.
“No doctor should be forced to perform controversial, medically unsupported procedures that are contrary to their conscience and could be deeply harmful to their patients,” he said.
The conflict between religious liberty and LBGTQ rights is pending before the Supreme Court in a case brought by a Catholic hospital. A transgender man sued the facility, arguing it violated California’s civil rights law by refusing to perform a hysterectomy on him.
The case of Dignity Health, Mercy San Juan Medical Center v. Evan Minton involves a biological woman who lives as a man. The biological woman sought a hysterectomy, but the Catholic hospital canceled the surgery after discovering the reason.
The patient, Mr. Minton, received the surgery from a nonreligious hospital but filed a discrimination lawsuit.
The lower court ruled for Mr. Minton. The hospital, citing its First Amendment rights, went to the Supreme Court to ask the justices to review the dispute.
The high court has not decided whether to hear the case, which was filed in March 2020. The court will begin its next session in October.
Steven Collins, a law professor at the University of Texas, said the court rulings thus far on religious objections to transgender services have been mixed.
“As I read the judicial tea leaves, I don’t think either side is going to get an outright victory in these cases. We will continue to see … a victory for one side in one case and a victory for the other side in the next. That will likely continue until both sides on these culture war issues can come together to reach a legislative solution,” he said.
A case out of New York awaiting review grapples with the question of whether the state can require religious employers to provide insurance coverage that includes abortion, said Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School.
Like the transgender case, the court hasn’t said whether it will agree to hear the matter.
“There is a steady trickle of these kinds of cases,” Mr. Laycock said.