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Biden admin. can't force Catholic doctors to perform gender reassignment surgeries: 8th Circuit

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building is shown August 16, 2006, in Washington, D.C. The HHS building, also known as the Hubert H. Humphrey building, is located at the foot of Capitol Hill and is named for Humphrey, who served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota and vice president of the United States. |

A federal appeals court has blocked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing a regulation requiring medical professionals and health insurance providers to perform gender-transition procedures against their beliefs. 

In the decision released Friday by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the three-judge panel granted a permanent injunction to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and a coalition of other Catholic healthcare and insurance providers against what critics call the "transgender mandate." 

In May 2016, the HHS Office of Civil Rights finalized regulations for Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The agency added gender identity and sexual orientation to the provision prohibiting discrimination in healthcare settings. The rule was repealed during the Trump administration but reinstated by the Biden administration in May 2021. 

The injunction means that the parties named in the case — including Religious Sisters of Mercy, Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Center, SMP Health System; University of Mary, Catholic Benefits Association, Diocese of Fargo, Catholic Charities of North Dakota and  Catholic Medical Association — do not have to conduct the procedure if they violate their religious beliefs and medical judgment. 

The ruling, authored by Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith, states that each plaintiff believes "that every man and woman is created in the image and likeness of God, and that they reflect God's image in unique — and uniquely dignified — ways." Because of this, plaintiffs believe sex change procedures "violate[s] their medical judgment by potentially causing harm to patients." 

"Additionally, they believe that they would violate their religious beliefs regarding human sexuality and procreation if they performed, among other things, gender-transition services," Smith, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote. "They also object for religious reasons to providing insurance coverage for their eligible employees for gender transitions." 

The federal agency has 60 days to ask the 8th Circuit to rehear the case and another 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling follows an August decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld an order permanently blocking the government from requiring Christian doctors and hospitals to perform gender-affirming procedures. 

Becket Law, a nonprofit group representing the plaintiffs, considers the 8th Circuit ruling a "win for religious freedom."

"There are now two federal appellate decisions affirming these broad injunctions, blocking the government from forcing [medical providers] to perform or ensure gender transitions," Goodrich told The Christian Post on a conference call with reporters Friday. 

"I think this is a very powerful precedent under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is the same law that has protected religious minorities for over two decades now, also protected the Little Sisters of the Poor from the contraception mandate." 

Goodrich asserted that religious organizations who oppose performing body-mutilating procedures have "strong legal protections." He stressed that the recent rulings mean there is a "precedent" they can cite now if they have to take their objections to court. 

As The Christian Post reported earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra indicated in a written response to Rep. Mary Miller that the administration supports taxpayers funding gender transition procedures and hormone drugs for gender dysphoric youth.

"The Department follows the law, and is working to ensure that all patients, everywhere can access care free from discrimination, stigma and barriers," Becerra said.

"The Biden-Harris Administration supports the upcoming release of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care Version 8 and believes that all children and adults should be afforded life-saving, medically necessary care," he continued. "Payers, both public and private, should cover treatments which medical experts have determined to be medically necessary."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: samantha.kamman@christianpost.com.

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