Religious doctors and hospitals will not have to perform gender-transition procedures in violation of their conscience, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked for a second time a Biden administration mandate for medical professionals to perform the procedure. The mandate, contained in a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, expanded the definition of nondiscrimination “on the basis of sex” to include gender identity.
HHS issued the mandate in 2016, interpreting the Affordable Care Act as requiring “physicians to perform gender-transition procedures on any patient, including children, regardless of whether the doctor believed the procedure could harm the patient.”
The ruling by a three-judge panel came in Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra, a case filed by a coalition of Catholic hospitals, a Catholic university and Catholic nuns who run clinics for the poor. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit public interest law firm, represented the Catholic groups.
The Catholic groups said enforcing the mandate on religious health care providers would violate guarantees contained in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. HHS had said it would offer an “exception” to the mandate “on a case-by-case basis” to religious providers who applied for one.
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said the court’s decision freed health care professionals to act in accordance with their conscience and best medical judgment.
“The federal government has no business forcing doctors to violate their consciences or perform controversial procedures that could permanently harm their patients,” he said. “The government’s attempt to force doctors to go against their consciences was bad for patients, bad for doctors and bad for religious liberty.”
The Biden administration has 60 days to ask the 8th Circuit to rehear the case and 90 days for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.
Neither HHS nor the Department of Justice, which represents HHS in court cases, responded to requests for comment.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals also issued an injunction against the mandate on Aug. 22 in a suit by the Franciscan Alliance.