Calif. appeals court says Catholic hospital can be sued for refusing to sterilize transgender male

Mercy San Juan Medical Center of California.
Mercy San Juan Medical Center of California. | (Photo: Facebook/Dignity Health Sacramento)

A California Court of Appeal has struck down a trial court ruling in favor of a Catholic hospital sued for not performing a sterilization procedure on a transgender individual for religious reasons.

In 2017, a transgender male named Evan Minton filed a complaint against Dignity Health, whose hospital Mercy San Juan Medical Center refused on religious grounds to perform an elective hysterectomy as part of a gender reassignment.

Presiding Justice Stuart Pollak of the Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division Four authored the opinion, which was released last week and reversed an earlier trial court decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Justice Pollak agreed with the plaintiff that Dignity Health’s refusal to perform the surgery likely violated California’s civil rights law, known as the Unruh Act.

“Denying a procedure as treatment for a condition that affects only transgender persons supports an inference that Dignity Health discriminated against Minton based on his gender identity,” wrote Justice Pollak.

Pollak, joined by appellate judges Alison Tucher and Tracie Brown, concluded that the case will be returned to the California Superior Court for San Francisco County “to enter a new and different order.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which is helping to represent Minton, explained in a press release last week that their client wanted the case to return to Superior Court to continue through the legal process.

“The Unruh Act promises full and equal access to public accommodations, yet Dignity Health refuses to provide necessary care to transgender patients,” said Elizabeth Gill, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

“We will continue to fight for the right to care for everyone, even if their local hospital has a religious affiliation.”

Prominent conservative writer David French denounced the decision in a column published by the National Review last week and considered it part of a growing number of attacks on religious liberty in left-leaning states.

“At present, blue states across the United States are attempting to use expansive nondiscrimination to coerce religious institutions to violate their religious principles as a condition for providing charitable or commercial services in their states,” wrote French.

“Even in the absence of evidence that any LGBT person has been denied access to adoption services or medical care, states are still bringing down the hammer.”

French called upon the United States Supreme Court “to step up and draw a line in the sand” when it came to cases like the Mercy San Juan lawsuit, adding that the government should “encroach no farther on the constitutional liberty of religious institutions.”

On Aug. 28, 2016, Minton had an appointment for an elective hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan canceled when the hospital learned that it was part of a gender reassignment process. The nearby Methodist Hospital performed the procedure less than a week later on Sept. 2, 2016.

Dignity Health argued that Mercy and its other facilities were obligated to follow a set of directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops titled “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”

The directives prohibit sterilization for men or women unless the procedure is performed for “the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available."

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