Judge rejects requiring doctors to perform transition surgery, abortions

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (CNS) -- By annulling an Obama administration requirement that doctors perform gender transition procedures or treatments, as well as abortions, a federal judge in Texas has upheld the conscience rights of medical professionals across the nation, said a lawyer for plaintiffs in the case.

"It is critically important that doctors are able to continue serving patients in keeping with their consciences and their professional medical judgment, especially when it comes to the personal health choices of families and children," said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a Washington-based nonprofit religious liberty law firm.

In an Oct. 15 ruling, Judge Reed O'Connor of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Wichita Falls affirmed his previous decision that "the rule imposes a substantial burden on private plaintiffs' religious exercise.”

In 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation, applicable to virtually every doctor in the country, that would have required them to recognize abortion or sex-change operations as appropriate medical care or face prosecution for sex discrimination.

Becket filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Texas on behalf of Franciscan Alliance, a religious hospital network sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, defending them from the new government regulation. The states of Texas, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wisconsin also joined in the suit.

On Dec. 31, 2016, O'Connor granted a nationwide, preliminary injunction against the HHS regulation. His ruling came a day before it was to take effect.

In his new ruling, he reviewed his earlier decision. "The court is careful not to weigh or evaluate the relevant doctrines of faith," he wrote, but has "concluded that (the) plaintiffs refusal to perform, refer for, or cover transitions or abortions is a sincere religious exercise.”

In his statement, Goodrich said O'Connor's ruling "marks a major victory for compassion, conscience and sound medical judgment.”

"Doctors cannot do their jobs if government bureaucrats are trying to force them to perform potentially harmful procedures that violate their medical and moral judgment," he added.