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ACLU Sues Sacramento Catholic Hospital for Refusing Transgender Surgery

Doctor holding rosary

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing a Roman Catholic hospital in California after it turned away a transgender man who sought a hysterectomy last August. As a matter of Roman Catholic doctrine, the hospital does not perform elective sterilizations, but the ACLU claims the case is sexual discrimination against a transgender person.

"It devastated me, and I don't want it to affect my transgender brothers and sisters the way it affected me," the transgender man, 35-year-old Evan Michael Minton, told The Sacramento Bee last month. "No one should have to go through that."

Minton was turned away from Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, Calif. Mercy San Juan is a branch of Dignity Health, a network of hospitals in the area. After the hospital rejected the surgery in August, it was performed in September at Methodist Hospital of Sacramento, a Dignity Health facility not bound by Catholic doctrines.

"I don't blame the staff," Minton's surgeon, Dr. Lindsey Dawson, said in August. "I don't blame the administrators. I blame the (Catholic) doctrines."

Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney for ACLU Northern California, argued the hospital's denial was "a clear-cut case of discrimination," based on the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their sex, race, religion, age, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation. The suit seeks $4,000, the minimal amount of damages under the law, Gill told the Bee.

"We cannot speak to the allegations until we have the opportunity to review them," Mercy San Juan spokeswoman Melissa Jue told PJ Media in a statement. "What we can share is that at Dignity Health Mercy San Juan Medical Center, the services we provide are available to all members of the communities we serve without discrimination."

Jue made the center's position clear: "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."

Indeed, section 53 of the ERDs makes clear that "direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution." However, "procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and similar treatment is not available."

"We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and we were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days," Jue added.

In November 2015, the Conference of Catholic Bishops joined nine other religious entities in opposition to the Obama administration's push to include gender identity in federal health care laws. "We believe, as do many health care providers, that medical and surgical interventions that attempt to alter one's sex are, in fact, detrimental to patients," the groups wrote. "Such interventions are not properly viewed as health care because they do not cure or prevent disease or illness. Rather they reject a person's nature at birth as male or female."