A Texas judge has temporarily blocked the Obama administration's new requirements for transgender care, granting a preliminary injunction Saturday to several states and religious health organizations suing over the rules.
The rule, which was slated to go into effect Jan. 1, says that doctors can't refuse to provide medically necessary health services within their scope of practice because of a patient's gender identity. It doesn't explicitly require doctors to perform gender transition services, but it says providers can't refuse services they already provide based on discrimination.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas temporarily blocked the requirements at the request of Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arizona and Mississippi along with the Franciscan Alliance and several other religiously affiliated organizations.
Judge Reed O'Connor wrote that the rule contradicts existing law and "likely violates" the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Becket Fund, which is representing the states and organizations, said the decision ensures doctors won't be required to act against their best medical judgement or violate their religious beliefs.
"The government has no business forcing private doctors to perform procedures on children that the government itself recognizes can be harmful and exempts its own doctors from performing," said Becket Fund senior counsel Lori Windham. "Today's ruling ensures that doctors' best medical judgement will not be replaced with political agendas and bureaucratic interference."
The Catholic Benefits Association, which represents more than 700 Catholic employers, including many hospitals, also filed a lawsuit in federal court Dec. 28 in an effort to get its members exempted from the rule.
The rule stems from the nondiscrimination section of the Affordable Care Act, which the Obama administration has defined to include a prohibition on discriminating on the basis of gender identity. Insurers and providers who don't comply risk paying a hefty fine and losing their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
Supporters of the requirement say it's necessary to ensure transgender Americans can get the healthcare they need.
The administration wrote in its final rule that the requirement is consistent with the way other federal agencies are treating transgender people, referring to guidance from the Department of Education this year that schools should allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, not biological sex. The Supreme Court plans to hear challenges to that policy next year.