Violating Conscience Protections for Healthcare Professionals

Apr 23, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to force doctors to perform “gender transition surgery” in violation of their conscience and professional medical judgment. 

Becerra is attempting to overturn a January ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota in which the court blocked a requirement known as the so-called “Transgender Mandate.” This would force medical professionals and religious hospitals to perform surgery on and provide hormone drugs to people when doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. 

In Sisters of Mercy v. Azar, an order of Catholic nuns, a Catholic university, and Catholic healthcare organizations sued the federal government challenging a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would have forced doctors to perform surgery and provide hormone drugs even if doing so would violate their religious beliefs and medical judgment. 

The federal court, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, upheld conscience protections for healthcare providers and struck down the mandate.

In 2016, the Obama administration issued a mandate, applicable to nearly every healthcare provider in the country, interpreting the Affordable Care Act to require them to remove healthy body parts and provide opposite sex hormones, even if the doctor believed the procedure could harm the patient. Doctors who refused to violate their medical judgment would have faced severe consequences, including financial penalties and private lawsuits. Immediately, nine states, several religious organizations, and an association of over 19,000 healthcare professionals sued, challenging the legality of the mandate in multiple courts. In 2016, a federal court in North Dakota put the rule on hold, and in 2019 another federal court in Texas struck it down. 

In June 2020, HHS passed a new rule aimed at walking back the requirement, but other courts have blocked that new rule. The ruling in Sisters of Mercy is the second ruling from a federal court blocking the “Transgender Mandate.” 

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Healthcare providers should never be forced to violate their medical judgement or sincerely held religious beliefs. They take the Hippocratic Oath to refrain from causing harm to their patients. There is no room for political agendas in the doctor-patient relationship. The Biden administration is the most anti-religious freedom administration in history, already surpassing the depths to which the Obama administration sank.” 

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