SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — A California woman who identifies as a man has filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital and its parent company for prohibiting her surgeon from performing a sex change-related hysterectomy at the facility because of the organization’s religious convictions.
The 35-year-old woman, who goes by the name Evan Minton, had been scheduled to undergo a complete hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael last August. She believed the procedure was necessary to comport with her preferred identity.
However, the day before her appointment, after she noted to a nurse that she identifies as “transgender,” the surgery was canceled.
“In general, it is our practice not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health’s Catholic facilities,” said spokeswoman Melissa Jue in a statement at the time.
Mercy San Juan President Brian Ivie informed Minton’s surgeon, Lindsey Dawson—who regularly performs hysterectomies at the facility—that perhaps she could instead obtain admitting privileges at nearby Methodist Hospital, which is still a part of the network, but non-Catholic.
Dawson was able to perform the operation at Methodist Hospital within a week, but because Mercy San Juan and Dignity Health would not permit the surgery at the Catholic hospital, Minton filed suit, alleging discrimination.
“I don’t blame the staff,” said Dawson. “I don’t blame the administrators. I blame the [Roman Catholic] doctrines.”
The ACLU asserts in its lawsuit that the denial is a violation of the state’s Unruh Act, which prohibits business establishments from discriminating against patrons on the basis of one’s gender. It is seeking a court order that would force the hospital to allow the procedures in the future.
“The refusal of Dignity Health to allow a doctor to perform this common procedure simply because the patient is transgender is discriminatory,” Elizabeth Gill, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. “This is a hospital that is open to the general public so it’s illegal for them to turn away someone based on gender identity.”
Mercy Health has reiterated its position, but says that it was “happy” to help Minton obtain the operation at one of its non-Catholic facilities.
“We do not provide elective sterilizations at Dignity Health’s Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) and the medical staff bylaws,” it said. “We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.”
Minton has also obtained a mastectomy and a phalloplasty.
As previously reported, last summer, the Obama administration released guidelines prohibiting sex discrimination in federally-funded hospitals under the threat of losing funding. The rules pertain to language in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, and affects all hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid, as well as those directly funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). (Read in full here.)
HHS asserted at the time of issuance that the rules build upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Education Amendments of 1972, which the Obama administration interpreted as applying to “gender identity.”
“[A] covered entity may not deny, based on an individual’s identification as a transgender male, treatment for ovarian cancer where the treatment is medically indicated” and if “an issuer or state Medicaid agency denies a claim for coverage for a hysterectomy that a patient’s provider says is medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria,” the case will be investigated, it outlined.
Five states, as well as the Christian Medical and Dental Association and the Roman Catholic Franciscan Alliance, quickly filed suit out of their belief that the government was wrongly forcing them to perform sex change-related procedures violative of the tenets of their faith.
Judge Reed O’Connor sided with the plaintiffs in the case, citing the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and concluding that “[p]laintiffs will be forced to either violate their religious beliefs or maintain their current policies which seem to be in direct conflict with the rule and risk the severe consequences of enforcement.”