In a major victory for religious liberty, a federal court in North Dakota has struck down an Obamacare mandate that required doctors and other health care professionals to perform gender reassignment surgery.
The Tuesday decision, delivered on the day before President Joe Biden began his presidential term, could complicate the new president’s focus on transgender rights.
According to The Washington Free Beacon, Judge Peter D. Welte of the District of North Dakota ruled on the side of two Catholic groups that challenged the Department of Health and Human Services over the rule — Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
That mandate requires any provider receiving federal funds to not discriminate based on a number of factors, including gender identity.
The Trump administration moved to strike gender identity from Section 1557 in June of 2020, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The same month, however, the Supreme Court ruled that gender identity protected employees from discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and two courts blocked the implementation of the Trump administration’s attempt at repeal.
In Tuesday’s ruling, however, Judge Welte ruled the organizations were entitled to permanent injunctive relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
“The Catholic Plaintiffs have demonstrated an entitlement to permanent injunctive relief. An RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] violation is comparable to the deprivation of a First Amendment right,” Welte wrote in his opinion regarding the court case.
“So with actual success on the RFRA claims established, ‘the other requirements for obtaining a[n] . . . injunction are generally deemed to have been satisfied.’”
He added that an “intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is sufficient to show irreparable harm.”
“The balance of harms tilts decisively in their favor too,” the opinion read. “Absent an injunction, they will either be ‘forced to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs’ by performing and covering gender-transition procedures ‘or to incur severe monetary penalties for refusing to comply.'”
“An injunction will also advance the public interest because the protection of constitutional rights is ‘always in the public interest.'”
Luke Goodrich, senior counsel at non-profit group the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — which handled the case for the plaintiffs — said on Twitter the decision was a”[m]ajor victory for #ReligiousFreedom.”
“The plaintiffs are religious doctors, hospitals, and clinics who joyfully serve ALL patients regardless of sex or gender identity. They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold.”
The plaintiffs are religious doctors, hospitals, and clinics who joyfully serve ALL patients regardless of sex or gender identity. They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. 2/
— Luke Goodrich (@LukeWGoodrich) January 19, 2021
“But a controversial HHS regulation threatens multimillion-dollar penalties unless they perform gender-transition procedures, even when the procedures violate the doctors’ religious beliefs and medical judgment and could harm patients,” he wrote.
But a controversial HHS regulation threatens multimillion-dollar penalties unless they perform gender-transition procedures, even when the procedures violate the doctors’ religious beliefs and medical judgment and could harm patients. https://t.co/3KO5w125LN 4/
— Luke Goodrich (@LukeWGoodrich) January 19, 2021
“Now more than ever, Americans are grateful for the sacrifices of our medical professionals who serve on the front lines and use their training and expertise to serve the vulnerable,” Goodrich said in a statement.
“The court’s decision recognizes our medical heroes’ right to practice medicine in line with their conscience and without politically motivated interference from government bureaucrats.”
If the nascent Biden administration has its way, government bureaucrats could get involved again.
On Biden’s platform website, it states that “Biden will ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals have full access to all appropriate health care treatments and resources.
“This includes covering care related to transitioning — including gender confirmation surgery.”
Furthermore, Biden has lent full support to the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would make gender identity a fully protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
How this would affect the North Dakota ruling — or whether it would at all — remains to be seen. In 2019, a Texas judge also struck down the mandate. However, as previously mentioned, the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal the rule was struck down by two separate courts, as well.
For now, however, it’s a major victory for religious freedom.
Both Biden and the media have touted his Catholic bona fides throughout the past several years. Let’s see if he’s willing to let his fellow Catholics follow their consciences.
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