Judge rules Catholic hospital discriminated against transgender man for refusing hysterectomy surgery

A Catholic hospital in Maryland is being penalized for committing the apparent crime of denying hysterectomy surgery to a so-called “transgender man” because such surgery would violate the religious rules they must abide by.

A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure in which the uterus is partially or fully removed.

When “transgender man” Jesse Hammons, 33, tried to obtain the surgery from the University of Maryland’s St. Joseph Medical Center, they said no.

“In fall 2019, a physician at St. Joseph met with Hammons and determined that a hysterectomy — a procedure in which a patient’s uterus is removed — was the proper treatment for [her] gender dysphoria,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

“But a week before the scheduled procedure, the medical center’s chief medical officer, Dr. Gail Cunningham, told the surgeon that ‘transgender surgery’ could not be performed at the hospital, a former Catholic institution that still follows health care policies created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” the Sun reported Tuesday.

In response, Hammons linked up with the ACLU and filed suit in 2020 accusing the hospital and its parent company, the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), of violating her First Amendment rights, her Fourth Amendment rights, and the Affordable Care Act.

In a ruling issued on Jan. 6th, U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow dismissed the first two accusations but did agree that the hospital had violated Obamacare’s non-discrimination stipulation.

 

According to Chasanow, “the undisputed facts establish that the decision to cancel [Ms.] Hammons’ hysterectomy pursuant to a policy that prohibits gender-affirming care was discrimination on the basis of [her] sex.”

St. Joseph Medical Center and UMMS staunchly disagree with the ruling. In a statement, they noted that the hospital had offered to perform the surgery at a different hospital but that Hammons had stubbornly refused.

Hammons meanwhile responded to the ruling by voicing her hope that the hospital will change.

“This is a great win for myself and all transgender people denied equal treatment because of who they are. All I wanted was for UMMS to treat my health care like anyone else’s, and I’m glad the court recognized how unfair it was to turn me away. I’m hopeful UMMS can change this harmful policy and help more transgender people access the care they need,” she said.

But it seems that’s unlikely to happen.

“Until the medical center was purchased by UMMS in 2012, it was operated as a Catholic hospital by Catholic Health Initiatives, a national health care system based in Colorado. As a condition of the $200 million purchase, UMMS agreed the hospital would continue to follow the ‘Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,'” the Sun notes.

“Among other rules, the directives bar Catholic health care institutions from performing procedures that induce the ‘sterilization of either men or women.’ … Exceptions to the policy include when the direct result of the procedure is the cure or alleviation of a ‘serious pathology’ and a simpler treatment is not available,” according to the Sun.

But there’s more. St. Joseph Medical Center’s compliance with the directives is regularly audited by the National Bioethics Center, which has “issued guidance that states Catholic health centers should never provide gender-affirming treatment.”

Testifying before Chasanow, Cunningham — the hospital’s chief medical officer — had said she didn’t “have any reason to believe that” this guidance doesn’t apply to St. Joseph.

“She also said the hospital prohibits medical personnel from participating in both surgical and nonsurgical gender-affirming treatments for patients,” according to the Sun.

Nevertheless, in a statement, UMMS spokesman Michael Schwartzberg said that UMMS is for its part all about caring for transgender patients.

“Although our offer to perform gender-affirming surgery at a different location was declined by Mr. Hammons, the University of Maryland Medical System remains committed to meeting the unique medical needs of transgender individuals and patients who are routinely scheduled by physicians for appointments and procedures at UMMS member organizations,” he said.

As for the ACLU, they responded to the ruling by celebrating.

“We’re thankful the court saw through a transparently discriminatory and harmful action by UMMS. The government has no business operating a religious hospital, much less do they have the right to deny transgender patients care they routinely provide to cisgender patients,” Joshua Block, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said.

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