NEW YORK – A lawsuit filed by the State of Florida and on behalf of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) claims that new nondiscrimination regulations implemented by the Biden administration is unlawful overreach that will “fundamentally redefine the practice of medicine.”

On May 6, the federal register officially published changes the Department of Health and Human Services made to the nondiscrimination provisions in the Affordable Care Act, known as Section 1557, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex.

In response, the State of Florida and the Alliance for Defending Freedom, on behalf of the Catholic Medical Association, sued the Department of Health and Human Services, urging the courts to halt the rule from going into effect. The changes go into effect on July 5.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom argues that the new rule forces CMA members to lose federal funding or risk “severe penalties” for treating and referring to patients by their biological sex. As for Florida, the organization argues the new rule requires the state to “follow unscientific standards of care and limits the state’s power to set protective standards for health care professionals.”

CMA is an association of Catholic individuals in health care with 2,500 members nationwide.

“The Biden administration’s attempt to hijack medicine is the latest example of its unlawful overreach,” Julie Marie Blake, senior counsel at the Alliance for Defending Freedom said in a May 7 statement.

“The HHS rule will harm those suffering from gender dysphoria, particularly children, and punish doctors who seek to care for them,” Blake said. “Medical professionals around the world and individuals who have undergone these experimental, body-altering procedures are warning about their risks.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody argued that the new rule is an attempt by the Biden administration to circumvent a law the state enacted last spring, which bans gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy for minors.

“Florida passed a law to protect our children from dangerous, irreversible gender-transition drugs and surgeries,” Moody said in a May 7 statement. “Now, Biden and his federal bureaucrats are trying to go around our child-protection law to force the state to pay for puberty blockers and gender-transition surgery for children.”

“These rules trample states’ power to protect their own citizens and we will not stand by as Biden tries, yet again, to force the use of the federal government to unlawfully stifle Florida’s effort to protect children,” Moody added.

The lawsuit itself states that the new rule “would fundamentally redefine the practice of medicine and place [Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights] lawyers in the strange position of overseeing – and second guessing – the clinical and ethical judgements of health care professionals and state medical boards across the country.”

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in specified programs or activities. The new protections that add to the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex were in place under the administration of President Barack Obama, but rolled back under the administration of President Donald Trump.

The final rule applies to health programs or activities that receive funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, health programs or activities administered by the department, and the health insurance marketplace. Those covered by the rule may include hospitals, health clinics, health insurance insurers, state Medicaid agencies, community health centers, physicians’ practices, and home health care agencies.

A Department of Health and Human Services explainer page reiterates that the new regulations include religious freedom and conscience exemption. Blake explained to Crux May 7 that the law in which the rule is based, Title IX, contains an explicit exemption, which was left out of the new final rule.

“The law in which this rule is based is Title IX, which has a categorical religious exception that says if you’re working in a medical practice, controlled by religious Americans, you are exempt and that was not put in the final rule,” Blake said. “And that type of broad, across the board, upfront exemption is important and that is one of the claims the Catholic Medical Association is bringing in this case.”

A spokesperson for the Catholic Health Association, which includes more than 2,200 Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and related organizations told Crux on May 7 that it has no plans to challenge the rule. The association’s president and CEO Sr. Mary Haddad holds a different opinion than the Alliance for Defending Freedom. She said in a May 2 statement that members of the association “greatly appreciate the Administration’s clear and repeated articulation of its commitment to protecting conscience and religious freedom rights of health care providers.”

The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a Crux request for comment on the lawsuit. Announcing the rule, Secretary Xavier Becerra called the changes a giant step forward.

“Today’s rule is a giant step forward for this country toward a more equitable and inclusive health care system, and means that Americans across the country now have a clear way to act on their rights against discrimination when they go to the doctor, talk with their health plan, or engage with health programs run by HHS,” Becerra said in an April 26 statement.

The United States Conference of Bishops weighed in on the new regulations when they were first announced early this month, arguing that they “advance an ideological view of sex.”

“We appreciate that the final rule does not attempt to impose a mandate with regard to abortion,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Chair of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty said in an April 30 statement. “These regulations, however, advance an ideological view of sex that, as the Holy See has noted, denies the most beautiful and most powerful difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.”

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