Catholic group changes course in HHS lawsuit after final rule

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HHS Lawsuit
In this 2015 file photo, LGBTQ supporters wave a flag outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Catholic Benefits Association amended an ongoing lawsuit it filed in October 2023 that seeks relief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' regulation prohibiting health care providers and insurers that receive federal funding from discriminating against patients who seek treatment related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. (OSV News photo/Tyler Orsburn, CNS archive)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The release of a final rule for a federal regulation governing health care and gender identity has prompted the Catholic Benefits Association to amend its ongoing lawsuit against the Biden administration challenging the policy.

The association first filed suit in October 2023 against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in U.S. District Court in North Dakota. The amended suit seeks relief from a new regulation issued by HHS in early May that would expand civil rights protections for patients by prohibiting health care providers and insurers that receive federal funding from discriminating against those who seek treatment related to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Details of the CBA complaint

Martin Nussbaum, CBA’s general counsel, told OSV News that “this is what our complaint is about: The new rule says that TPAs (third-party administrators) and insurers must cover not only gender transition services, but what they’re now calling gender-affirming care.”

The CBA is comprised of Catholic dioceses, hospitals, school systems, religious orders and other entities that offer their employees insurance and benefit programs that adhere to Catholic teaching.

Potential conflict with Catholic ethical directives

HHS announced April 26 that it would restore Obama-era regulations governing health care for patients who identify as transgender that the Trump administration rolled back in 2020, though the courts blocked the move. On May 6, HHS issued a final rule on the regulations, scheduling them to go into effect July 5.

Critics say those regulations could, in effect, force Catholic medical providers to perform treatments that go against church teaching as outlined in the U.S. bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”

In its complaint, CBA said that if its members “were required to provide coverage for gender transition services, abortion, or infertility treatments such as IVF, surrogacy, or gamete donation, it would violate its Catholic values, give scandal to its employees and supporters, and otherwise compromise its religious mission.”

Statement from Archbishop Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, CBA’s board chair, said in a statement, “HHS and EEOC moved forward without providing any categorical religious exemption.”

“They know these mandates are contrary to Catholic values.” Archbishop Lori said. “Respect for faith-based conscientious objection has long been the custom in America. It’s disgraceful that HHS did not follow that practice here. Now, Catholic employers find themselves in an untenable situation.”

When the regulation was announced in April, spokespersons for HHS argued the expansion would protect LGBTQ+ patients while also respecting federal protections for religious freedom and conscience.

In guidance on health care policy and practices issued in 2023, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine opposed interventions that “involve the use of surgical or chemical techniques that aim to exchange the sex characteristics of a patient’s body for those of the opposite sex or for simulations thereof.”

“Any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person,” the document states.

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