Second federal court strikes down transgender mandate

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A federal court struck down the transgender mandate on Tuesday, the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The mandate that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional—despite objections that the doctor may have to the procedure—dates back to the Obama administration.

On Tuesday evening, Judge Peter Welte of the Eastern District of North Dakota granted Catholic groups that challenged the mandate permanent injunctive relief from having to provide or cover gender-transition procedures.

Luke Goodrich, VP and senior counsel at Becket, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision a “Major victory for #ReligiousFreedom.”

A coalition of Catholic organizations representing hospitals, doctors, and clinics, joined in part by the state of North Dakota, had challenged the mandate in court. The Catholic groups alleged that the mandate required them to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender-transition surgeries and abortions, against their conscientious objections.

Four Catholic groups under the Religious Sisters of Mercy, along with the Catholic Benefits Association and the state of North Dakota, brought the lawsuit.

Members of the Catholic groups “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,” Goodrich tweeted. “They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”

While he granted the Catholic groups an injunction on the mandate’s requirement of gender-transition surgery and coverage, Judge Welte dismissed their abortion-related claims.

“The Court DECLARES that HHS’s interpretation of Section 1557 that requires the Catholic Plaintiffs to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures violates their sincerely held religious beliefs without satisfying strict scrutiny under the RFRA,” Welte wrote.

The court is the second federal court to rule against the mandate. In Oct., 2019, Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas struck down the mandate after doctors had sued, alleging violations of conscience.

“Today’s ruling protects patients, aligns with current medical research, and ensures doctors aren’t forced to violate their religious beliefs and medical judgment,” Goodrich stated. “This is a victory for common-sense, conscience, and sound medical judgment.”

The mandate, issued in 2016, stemmed from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Sec. 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care in a number of areas.

The administration interpreted it to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and issued its requirement of doctors not to refuse gender-transition surgery referrals.

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