Metro Weekly

Hospital Discriminated Against Transgender Man, Federal Court Finds

Judge rules Catholic hospital's refusal to perform a hysterectomy on a transgender man is a form of sex-based discrimination.

hospital, surgery
Photo: Olga Guryanova, via Unsplash.

A federal judge has ruled that a Catholic hospital in Maryland discriminated against a transgender patient when it refused to perform a hysterectomy as part of the man’s gender transition.

U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow, of the District of Maryland, ruled that St. Joseph Medical Center, a hospital that is part of the University of Maryland Medical System, engaged in sex discrimination by refusing to provide doctor-recommended, gender-affirming care to 33-year-old Jesse Hammons, a transgender man.

Hammons sought out a hysterectomy at St. Joseph in 2019, with doctors at the hospital scheduling the surgery for January 2020. But the hospital later canceled the procedure, claiming that performing a surgery to assist in a gender transition would violate the hospital’s religious beliefs, as well as guidelines set by the National Catholic Bioethics Center. 

After St. Joseph refused to provide the surgery, the hospital’s parent network offered to move the procedure to a different facility that did not adhere to Catholic ethical considerations. But at the time, Hammons declined, later filing suit against the hospital for discrimination.

In his lawsuit, Hammons argued that the hospital had treated him differently than other patients — namely, cisgender women — who would otherwise be able to receive hysterectomies that were deemed “medically necessary.” 

Hammons ultimately went to a different hospital and received the hysterectomy in July of last year. 

When the University of Maryland Medical System acquired the Towson-based St. Joseph Medical Center in 2012, it said it would allow the center to maintain its Catholic identity, despite the fact that the hospital receives federal funding.

But in her opinion, Chasanow ruled that, despite the hospital being privatized by the state’s legislature, the system’s work with the Maryland government makes it a public entity, thereby making the hospital ineligible for a religious exemption under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Chasanow found that the denial of care violated prohibitions on sex-based discrimination contained in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. She also rejected claims that the hospital is shielded from being sued under an existing injunction in a separate case involving Catholic organizations seeking to be exempt from the law’s nondiscrimination provisions.

Officials for the University of Maryland Medical System and St. Joseph have said they are reviewing the ruling and deciding whether to appeal.

“We dispute many of the conclusions that were reached in this decision and may be in a position to comment further after additional analysis of the ruling,” Michael Schwartzberg, the senior director of media relations for the University of Maryland Medical System, said in a statement. “Legal disagreements aside, we sincerely wish the very best for Mr. Hammons and we support his efforts to seek the highest quality healthcare.

“We may disagree on certain technical, legal points but compassion for the patients we serve remains foundational to our work,” Schwartzberg added. “This legal claim stems directly from, and is traceable to, a surgeon mistakenly scheduling a procedure that could not be performed at UM SJMC. 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.”

Similar lawsuits challenging Catholic hospitals’ refusals have previously been filed in California and New Jersey

“This is a great win for myself and all transgender people denied equal treatment because of who they are,” Hammons said of Chasanow’s ruling. “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.”

“We’re thankful the court saw through a transparently discriminatory and harmful action by UMMS,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, which is representing Hammons, said in a statement. “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.”

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