ACLU Sues Healthcare Network for Cancelling Chest Surgery of Woman Who Identifies as Man

SEATTLE, Wash. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the largest healthcare network in Washington State after chest reconstruction surgery scheduled for a woman who identifies as a man was cancelled and she had to obtain the operation elsewhere.

According to the complaint filed by the ACLU, the 30-year-old woman, who goes by the name Ari Robbins, has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, “a serious medical condition codified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).”

While controversial, some health organizations believe that the course of treatment for those who suffer from gender dysphoria is to allow the person to change their outward appearance to align with their self-identification. For women, the ACLU outlines, this sometimes includes “chest masculinization surgery,” or removal of the breast to appear more masculine.

Last year, Robbins’ doctor referred her to Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics to obtain the surgery, and the operation was scheduled for March 2017. However, three weeks before the scheduled surgery, Robbins received a message that the operation had been canceled, and her doctor soon also received a notice that read, “Dr. Peters has decided she does not have the expertise to take on transgender patients.”

Therefore, Robbins had to obtain another referral from her doctor and start the process all over again. This past summer, after finding another surgeon who was willing to perform the procedure, Robbins drove to Idaho to have the surgery, which was then completed.

However, Robbins says that having to find another surgeon interfered with her schedule as she is a law student and was also seeking work opportunities.

“The five-month delay affected Robbins’ law school schedule and job prospects, which [she] had carefully timed around the surgery. Robbins was forced to delay the start of one of [her] internships because [she] had not healed from the surgery,” the lawsuit states.

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Robbins additionally had been painfully “binding” her chest for months as a way to alleviate the incongruence between her body and her gender identity, and the continued wait prolonged the pain, the ACLU says.

“Robbins felt judged and rejected by a health care provider with whom [she] had shared personal and confidential information,” the suit outlines. “Robbins was forced to continue binding for many more months, causing [her] physical pain that affected [her] schoolwork and personal life. Robbins experienced severe headaches and neck pain from wearing the binder, which intensified after [her] surgery was cancelled. ”

The ACLU alleges that Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics cancelled the surgery primarily because the woman identifies as a man, since the facility handles plastic surgery for other individuals. It is asking the court to rule that Robbins was the subject of discrimination, and to order the medical facility and network to cease engaging in discriminatory conduct.

Read the lawsuit in full here.

A spokesperson for Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics told local radio station KUOW that the facility offers a variety of treatments for those who suffer with gender dysphoria, and that while they can’t comment on the case due to privacy laws, officials are taking the claim “seriously.”

According to the Swedish Health Services website, the organization—while being nonsectarian—is affiliated with Providence Health & Services, which is a Roman Catholic non-profit founded by the Sisters of Providence.

As previously reported, a number of states and a Christian physician organization filed suit against the Obama administration last year after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a rule that some felt could require doctors to perform “sex change”-related services against their religious beliefs, and what they believe is in the best interest of the patient.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted that the preamble to the rules outlined that all doctors who accept Medicare or Medicaid would be required to provide the same services to transgendered individuals that they would normally offer to others, if those services are considered “medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria.”

“The rule requires covered employers, and their healthcare providers and professionals, to perform (or refer for) medical transition procedures (such as hysterectomies, mastectomies, hormone treatments, plastic surgery, etc.), if a physician or healthcare provider offers analogous services in other contexts,” it wrote in its brief.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor halted the enforcement of the rules in January while the matter moves forward in court.

“Plaintiffs 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,” he wrote, finding that the regulations would likely violate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The ACLU also filed suit against a Catholic hospital in April for cancelling surgery to remove the uterus of a woman who identifies as a man.

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