Following closely on the heels of a victory in favor of the religious conscience of medical professionals from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August, the 8th Circuit has now also ruled that a federal policy requiring healthcare professionals to perform abortions and gender transition surgeries violates federal law.

The federal policy resulted from an attempt by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to redefine the word “sex” in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and the federal employment law known as Title VII to include “pregnancy” and “gender identity.”

The redefinition triggered a duty on the part of healthcare professionals to perform procedures such as abortions and “gender transition” surgeries in violation of their medical ethics and religious conscience, prompting the lawsuits.

In 2021, a federal judge in North Dakota declared that the administration’s mandates violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). On December 9, a three-judge panel from the 8th Circuit agreed and affirmed the district court’s decision.

The plaintiffs in the 8th Circuit case included a coalition of Catholic hospitals, a Catholic university, and Catholic nuns who run health clinics for the poor. They are represented by attorneys with Becket Law (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty), who applauded the appeals court decision in a press release.

“The federal government has no business forcing doctors to violate their consciences or perform controversial procedures that could permanently harm their patients,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “This is a common-sense ruling that protects patients, aligns with best medical practice, and ensures doctors can follow their Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm.’”

Although the federal government could ask the 8th Circuit to reconsider its decision, or even appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court, its decision not to appeal the recent decision from the 5th Circuit involving the same mandates suggests that perhaps it will not. The 5th Circuit’s unchallenged decision prohibits the federal government from requiring the healthcare plaintiffs in that case – also represented by Becket – to perform the same procedures that are being litigated in the 8th Circuit.

There is yet a third lawsuit involving the federal mandates, this time in the federal courts in Tennessee, in which a judge sided with the Biden administration over RFRA claims made by over 3000 physicians and health professionals who are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

In the Tennessee case, the judge dismissed the RFRA claims of the healthcare professionals on procedural grounds, ruling the plaintiffs had no “standing” to file suit because certain administrative channels were not pursued first which could result in the professionals being granted an “exemption” to the abortion and transgender mandate.

That Tennessee ruling doesn’t mean the healthcare professionals in that case have lost yet, just that they had certain legal requirements to meet before they can sue the federal government. It’s also possible that those plaintiffs may appeal the ruling to the 6th Circuit.

Forcing people of faith in the healthcare field to perform medical procedures that violate their deeply held convictions – not to mention their informed medical opinion – is simply wrong. Egregiously wrong.

We will continue to follow these important cases as they develop. The best resolution for religious freedom of all healthcare professionals, not just the ones who acted as plaintiffs in the lawsuits mentioned above, would be for a federal court to “set aside and vacate” the administration’s mandates, which would then render those mandates null and void across the nation.

The 8th Circuit case is The Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra. The 5th Circuit case is Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra. The Tennessee case (6th Circuit) is American College of Pediatricians v. Becerra.


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