July 22, 2020 at 12:20 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trans man sues Baltimore Catholic hospital for denying surgery

The American Civil Liberties Union on July 16 filed a lawsuit against the University of Maryland Medical System and its Towson, Md., based University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center for the Catholic hospital’s refusal to perform surgery on a transgender man.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of Jesse Hammons, a 33-year-old transgender man who lives in Baltimore. 

The lawsuit charges the hospital violated Hammons’ First and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights and violated the U.S. Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provision when it cancelled a hysterectomy that Hammons’ surgeon was scheduled to perform on Jan. 6 at the hospital. 

A hospital official told the surgeon it cancelled the hysterectomy, which the American Medical Association considers a necessary standard of care for transgender men, on grounds that it was prohibited by “Catholic health care values.”

According to the lawsuit, the University of Maryland Medical System and the 13 hospitals it operates throughout the state are “instrumentalities of the State of Maryland and subject to the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.”

The lawsuit further charges that UMMS is violating its constitutional obligations by operating the University Of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center as a Catholic institution. The lawsuit notes that St. Joseph Medical Center operated as an independent Catholic hospital for many years before it was purchased in 2012 by the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation, a quasi-governmental entity funded by the state. It says the UMMS acted improperly when it approved a provision in the purchase agreement allowing the hospital to continue to operate as a Catholic facility.

“An instrumentality of the state may not operate a Catholic hospital or deny medical care to transgender patients based on Catholic religious beliefs,” the lawsuit states. “By invoking Catholic religious beliefs as a basis for cancelling Mr. Hammons’s medically necessary surgery, Defendants violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” it says.

“Mr. Hammons was not able to have his hysterectomy performed until June 24, 2020” at another hospital, the lawsuit says. “As a result of the rescheduling, Mr. Hammons had to spend more money on an additional round of pre-operative tests; he had to spend another six months experiencing gender dysphoria without the therapeutic benefits of the surgery; and he had to spend another six months carrying the stress and anxiety of having to mentally prepare himself for the surgery all over again,” the lawsuit declares.

“University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center does not discriminate nor treat any patient differently on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation,” the hospital said in a statement it released in response to the lawsuit.

“The health and safety of our patients is, and always will be, our highest priority,” the statement says. “UM SJMC was built on a mission of loving and compassionate care and we sincerely regret the hurt and frustration caused by this event,” it says.

The statement says that although St. Joseph’s Medical Center follows the religious directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “any patient seeking care that is not available at our hospital…can be offered care at other University of Maryland Medical System hospitals.” It points out that the University of Maryland’s Children’s Hospital has a transgender health program that offers treatment options for trans children, adolescents and their families.

Under court rules, the UMMS and St. Joseph Medical Center have 21 days from the time the lawsuit was filed to file an official response to the lawsuit.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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