The Biden administration can’t force a group of Catholic hospitals and doctors to cover or perform gender transition surgeries under an ObamaCare rule barring nondiscrimination in health care, a federal appeals court ruled.

In a ruling issued Friday, a three-judge panel on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) violated the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs, which included a group of nuns who run health clinics for the poor and an association of Catholic health care professionals.

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The judges said if the administration applied the rule to the Catholic groups, it would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The panel upheld a lower court’s permanent injunction preventing HHS from enforcing the rule.

The judges said the lower court was correct in determining that “intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is sufficient to show irreparable harm.”

ObamaCare prohibits sex discrimination by health care providers that receive federal funding, and the HHS rule interpreted that ban as extending to discrimination based on gender identity.

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The rule made it illegal for doctors, hospitals and other health care workers to deny care to someone whose sexual orientation or gender identity they disapproved of.

The Obama administration did that by expanding the health law’s definition of sex discrimination to include gender identity for the first time. Those expansions were blocked by a federal judge in 2016.

The Trump White House issued a final rule rolling back the protections in June 2020, but a day before the rule was set to go into effect, a federal judge blocked aspects of the policy and said a Supreme Court decision on workplace discrimination contradicted the new policy. 

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The court concluded federal laws against sex discrimination in the workplace also safeguarded gay and transgender people.

In June, the Biden administration proposed a rule to strengthen ObamaCare’s rules prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex as well as people seeking reproductive health care services, including those who have had abortions.