Judge Blocks HHS Rule Mandating Religious Health Care Providers Offer Gender Transition Services

By Lauretta Brown | January 4, 2017 | 3:36 PM EST

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor.

(AP) 

(CNSNews.com) – U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a nationwide injunction on Saturday blocking HHS regulation 1557, which “forbids discriminating on the basis of ‘gender identity’ and ‘termination of pregnancy’” in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with no exceptions for religious healthcare providers.

Nearly 18,000 doctors and a Catholic hospital system challenged the regulation saying it would force them to violate their religious beliefs.

The judge found that “the Rule imposes a substantial burden on Private Plaintiffs’ religious exercise.”

"Plaintiffs will be forced to either violate their religious beliefs or maintain their current policies, which seem to be in direct conflict with the Rule and risk the severe consequences of enforcement," Judge O'Connor wrote of the regulation.

(AP) 

O’Connor emphasized that the private plaintiffs “sincerely believe that participating in, referring for, or providing insurance coverage of gender transitions, sterilizations, or abortions would constitute ‘impermissible material cooperation with evil.’”

He added that the plaintiffs argued that the HHS Rule’s “definition of prohibited sex discrimination is contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious.”

He noted “this Court has previously concluded: the meaning of sex in Title IX unambiguously refers to ‘the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth,’” and concluded, “in promulgating the Rule, HHS revised the core of Title IX sex discrimination under the guise of simply incorporating it.”

As to the harm the plaintiffs faced following this rule the judge specified that, “one of the State Plaintiffs is already undergoing investigation by the HHS’s OCR, and entities similarly situated to Private Plaintiffs have already been sued under the Rule since it took partial effect on May 18, 2016, the Court finds Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they face a substantial threat of irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction.”

O’Connor also found that the rule’s failure to include any of the religious exemptions found in Title IX “renders it contrary to law.” He wrote that there is a “substantial likelihood” the plaintiffs would succeed in their RFRA claim.

“Today's decision is a setback,” White House Spokeswoman Katie Hill said in a statement on Saturday, “but hopefully a temporary one, since all Americans -- regardless of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation -- should have access to quality, affordable health care free from discrimination."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the HHS rule a “striking example of federal overreach under Obamacare,” in a statement Sunday, announcing the preliminary injunction.

(AP) 

Paxton said the HHS rule “would force many doctors, hospitals and other health care providers in Texas to participate in sex-reassignment surgeries and treatments, even if it violates their best medical judgment or their religious beliefs.”

The Becket Fund represented the Franciscan Alliance, a religious hospital network sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations from the new government regulation.

The States of Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Arizona, and Mississippi joined the legal challenge.

It is unclear how the Obama administration will respond to the injunction given that the administration has only 16 days left in office. 

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