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Federal judge blocks Obama-era mandate removing pro-life conscience protections

court, abortion pill reversal, conscience protections, abortions

In a major victory for pro-life health care providers, a federal court has blocked a mandate requiring physicians to participate in abortions as instructed by their employers or face steep penalties. The Obama-era mandate was previously blocked by courts but the Biden-Harris administration attempted to resurrect it. 

On August 9th, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted a permanent injunction to the “Christian Plaintiffs,” described as a Catholic hospital and Christian health care association, who sued against the mandate on the grounds that it violated their conscience protections in the case of Franciscan Alliance, Inc. et al. v. Xavier Becerra.

Judge Reed’s ruling found that the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate would cause “irreparable harm” to religious liberty protections, as defined by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Although the rule had already been blocked by previous legal action and court injunctions and then reinterpreted by the Trump administration, the Biden administration had sought to reinvigorate the Obama-era pro-abortion interpretation and enforce it with fines and other administrative actions.

“Here, Christian Plaintiffs contend that violation of their statutory rights under RFRA is an irreparable harm,” the ruling states. “The Court agrees and concludes that enforcement of the 2021 Interpretation forces Christian Plaintiffs to face civil penalties or to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions contrary to their religious beliefs—a quintessential irreparable injury.” 

The ruling means that Health and Human Services Secretary pro-abortion Xavier Becerra will be prohibited “from interpreting or enforcing” the law “in a manner that would require them to perform or provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures or abortions, including by denying Federal financial assistance because of their failure to perform or provide insurance coverage for such procedures or by otherwise pursuing, charging, or assessing any penalties, fines, assessments, investigations, or other enforcement actions.”

READ: Spain plans to expand its abortion laws, end conscience protections for doctors

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, celebrated the ruling on Twitter. “Today’s ruling protects patients, aligns with current medical research, and ensures doctors aren’t forced to violate their religious beliefs and medical judgment — a victory for common sense, conscience, and sound medicine,” he said.

The Obama administration originally issued the mandate in 2016, based on an Affordable Care Act nondiscrimination clause, according to the Daily Caller, which required health care providers to commit abortions and perform gender-transition surgeries. The Obama and Biden administrations have interpreted this rule as a way to deny a pro-life doctor’s right to refrain from committing a “termination of pregnancy” on a pregnant woman — essentially claiming that not committing an abortion is a form of sex discrimination. 

A North Dakota Eastern Division court struck down the mandate earlier this year, making this more recent court ruling the second to block the mandate this year. The Biden administration has appealed the North Dakota ruling, according to the Daily Caller, pitting Becerra against the Sisters of Mercy for a second time. 

The latest ruling comes as conscience protections increasingly have been under attack around the world. The European Parliament recently labeled abortion a fundamental human right and called for member countries to decriminalize abortion and remove physician’s conscience protections.

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