The Biden administration resurrected a legally challenged Obama-era interpretation of a provision of the Affordable Care Act and other statutes to force religious hospitals and healthcare workers to provide gender-transition services or face steep fines and other adverse actions.
That move had been blocked by a district court and now an appeals court has affirmed the permanent injunction against the federal government, Breitbart reported.
This ruling from the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra is similar to that of a separate challenge, Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra, that also resulted in a block of the federal government by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.
Admin sought to force “gender transition” services from religious healthcare providers
At issue here are the interpretations of certain federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, of various statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex to also include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In doing so, however, the government declined to include in its interpretations the exemptions for those who object for reasons of conscience or religious beliefs.
As such, the Biden administration sought to force religious hospitals and healthcare workers to provide “gender transition” services including surgery, hormone treatment, and puberty blockers, among other things, or else risk losing all federal funding in addition to massive fines for non-compliance.
In response, a coalition of Catholic healthcare providers joined together and filed suit in search of injunctions to block enforcement of the reinterpreted rules, first with the Franciscan Alliance case in the Fifth Circuit and now with the Sisters of Mercy case in the Eight Circuit.
Rule violates religious freedom
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit ruled against the Biden administration and affirmed that a district court had been correct to issue a nationwide injunction because the efforts of the federal government constituted an “intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion.”
The Sisters of Mercy coalition, as well as the Franciscan Alliance in the Fifth Circuit case, were represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which rightly celebrated the Eighth Circuit panel’s decision to affirm that nationwide injunction against federal enforcement.
“The federal government has no business forcing doctors to violate their consciences or perform controversial procedures that could permanently harm their patients,” Becket’s VP and senior counsel Luke Goodrich said in a statement. “This is a common-sense ruling that protects patients, aligns with best medical practice, and ensures doctors can follow their Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm.’”
“Today’s victory sets an important precedent that religious healthcare professionals are free to practice medicine in accordance with their consciences and experienced professional judgment,” he added. “The government’s attempt to force doctors to go against their consciences was bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad for religious liberty.”
Further appeals seem unlikely
Breitbart noted that the Eighth Circuit panel’s ruling was exceptionally narrow in that it applied only to the Catholic healthcare providers who were party to the suit. However, as noted by Becket’s Goodrich, it does set a clear precedent that other religious healthcare providers can use in separate challenges.
The outlet further noted that the Biden administration now has 45 days to ask for a rehearing by the entire Eighth Circuit bench or 90 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.
However, in the view of Goodrich, it is unlikely that the Biden administration will pursue further appeals, which means that for all intents and purposes, the efforts to force religious healthcare providers to violate their beliefs and conscience with “gender transition” is permanently finished.