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Catholic hospital can't refuse to remove uterus from trans-identified patient, judge rules

Hospital, Surgery
Operating room staff perform a surgery. |

A federal court ruled the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center broke the law by refusing to remove the uterus of a trans-identified patient due to the religious beliefs of the Institution, which is committed to Catholic principles while also being part of the public medical system.

U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled Friday that the hospital violated the Affordable Care Act and discriminated against plaintiff Jesse Hammons, a biological female diagnosed with gender dysphoria, by refusing to conduct a planned hysterectomy (removal of the womb) because it doesn't conduct those procedures to address gender dysphoria. 

The ruling acknowledged that St. Joseph's policy is guided by the National Catholic Bioethics Center's interpretation of Ethical and Religious Directives, which prohibits such procedures because they do not "conform to the true good of the human person, who is a body-soul union unalterably created male or female."

Chasanow, a Clinton appointee, issued a summary judgment stating that the facility may not assert a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it receives federal funds.

The hospital was purchased by the University of Maryland Medical System in 2012 with an agreement that the hospital would continue to "operate in a manner consistent with Catholic values and principles." The hospital also has to comply with a "'formal reporting mechanism' to ensure St. Joseph is held accountable for its 'Catholic identity.'" A representative of the Archdiocese of Baltimore serves on the hospital's board. 

In 2019, UMMS scheduled Hammons for a hysterectomy after a doctor "determined that a hysterectomy was the proper treatment" for gender dysphoria. The procedure was scheduled for January 2020. Hammons was later informed that the hospital could not perform the procedure because it was for "gender transition." Hammons rescheduled the surgery at another hospital after another round of pre-operative tests. The hysterectomy was completed in June 2020. 

The hospital and the UMMS are reviewing the judge's decision.

"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," a statement sent to The Christian Post by a UMMS spokesperson reads. 

"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."

The statement adds that the legal claim stems from 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," the statement concludes. 

In a statement shared by the American Civil Liberties Union, Hammons called the ruling "a great win for myself and all transgender people."

"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," Hammons said. "I'm hopeful UMMS can change this harmful policy and help more transgender people access the care they need."

The ruling in Maryland comes as other federal courts have prevented the Biden administration from enforcing on certain religious organizations a regulation requiring medical providers and health insurers to provide or cover gender transition surgeries.

In December, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing finalized regulations pertaining to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act against several Catholic organizations. 

That ruling followed an August decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding an order permanently blocking the administration from requiring Christian doctors and hospitals to perform gender-affirming procedures. 

The Biden administration didn't appeal the 5th Circuit decision blocking the federal mandate.

"There are now two federal appellate decisions affirming these broad injunctions, blocking the government from forcing [medical providers] to perform or ensure gender transitions," Luke Goodrich, senior counsel of the religious freedom legal organization Becket Law, said during a conference call in December. 

"I think this is a very powerful precedent under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is the same law that has protected religious minorities for over two decades now, also protected the Little Sisters of the Poor from the contraception mandate." 

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