On Monday, a federal judge handed religious liberty advocates a major win by ruling that the Biden administration cannot force Christian doctors and religious hospitals to perform abortions or gender transition procedures under Obamacare.
The case involves a portion (Section 1557) of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The Obama administration interpreted Section 1557 as also prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, although the Trump administration reversed that policy and said it interpreted it as referencing "male or female and as determined by biology."
In May of this year, the Biden administration reverted to the Obama policy, with the Department of Health and Human Services saying it would interpret Obamacare as banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The various interpretations impact what doctors and hospitals are required to do under federal law.
A coalition of religious and Christian doctors and hospitals filed suit in 2016 and have won several rounds in court, although the latest federal court ruling, handed down Monday, is the first one that addressed the Biden administration's new interpretation.
Federal Judge Reed O'Connor, in a 23-page decision, ruled the Biden administration's rules "substantially burdens Christian Plaintiffs' religious exercise in clear violation of" the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law.
"Enforcement of the 2021 Interpretation" by the Biden administration "forces Christian Plaintiffs to face civil penalties or to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions contrary to their religious beliefs," O'Connor wrote. He was nominated by President George W. Bush.
O'Connor's decision "permanently" prohibits HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and his successors from "interpreting or enforcing Section 1557" in a manner that would require the plaintiffs to "perform or provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures or abortions.
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, called the decision a "victory for compassion, conscience, and common sense."
"No doctor should be forced to perform controversial, medically unsupported procedures that are contrary to their conscience and could be deeply harmful to their patients," Goodrich said in a statement. "These religious doctors and hospitals provide top-notch medical care to all patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. Everyone benefits when doctors are able to follow their professional medical judgment and their Hippocratic Oath to 'Do No Harm.'"
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.