On Monday, the Biden administration announced it is reversing a Trump-era policy that advocates say protected the religious liberty of Christian doctors in disputes over transgender medical procedures.
At issue is a portion of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex within health care. That section (Section 1557) was interpreted by the Trump administration to refer to "male or female and as determined by biology." Multiple faith-based organizations, including the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, supported the Trump rule and said it protected religious liberty. The Trump administration itself said the rule offered "conscience and religious freedom protections."
But the Biden administration on Monday said it would interpret Section 1577 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The latter term encompasses transgenderism. Enforcement of the new rule is effective immediately.
"Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences," said Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
"It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone – including LGBTQ people – should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period," Becerra said.
Supporters of the Trump-era rule, though, say the new Biden rule – which is similar to one from the Obama administration – will lead to Christian doctors and other religious medical personnel being forced to perform gender-transition procedures, including surgery.
"This is bad for patients, doctors, and religious liberty," tweeted Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is involved in a court case related to the issue.
#BREAKING: Biden's HHS just announced "beginning today" it will punish doctors and hospitals if they won't perform harmful gender-transition procedures against their conscience and medical judgment. This is bad for patients, doctors, and religious liberty.https://t.co/cb392k5JPy— Luke Goodrich (@LukeWGoodrich) May 10, 2021
Becket calls it the "Transgender Mandate."
Goodrich said the Biden rule would "punish doctors and hospitals if they won't perform harmful gender-transition procedures against their conscience and medical judgment."
The Biden administration on Monday said it would "comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act" and "all applicable court orders." The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a federal law that prevents the government from "substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion."
Goodrich, though, noted that the Biden administration is fighting Christian doctors in court on the issue. In April, the Biden administration appealed a decision by a court that had ruled doctors cannot be forced to perform gender-transition procedures.
Catholic Vote also criticized the Biden administration.
"The HHS decision this morning turns back the clock on medical sanity," said Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote. "This new HHS mandate is a transparent effort to substitute doctors' medical judgment in the highly experimental and politicized field of gender medicine. Contrary to the misleading HHS announcement, no American is being denied care for broken arms, or standard medical procedures based on their gender 'identity' or sexual orientation. This move by HHS is a setup to normalize and strong-arm doctors into administering puberty-blocking drugs on children, performing sex-change surgeries, and more. Catholic hospitals and doctors are likely to come under increased pressure and scrutiny as a result."
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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.