ACLU Sues Catholic Hospital over Sex-Reassignment Surgery

by Alexandra DeSanctis

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Mercy San Juan Center in Carmichael, Calif., after the hospital — which is part of the Dignity Health chain in the state — refused to perform gender-reassignment surgery for a woman who wished to “transition” into a man.

Evan Michael Minton wanted to receive a hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan Center as part of that sex-change process, and the hospital refused to perform the surgery because of its affiliation with the Catholic Church. The Church’s long-standing doctrine on gender and sexuality maintains that sex-change operations are contradictory to the intrinsic truth of human nature and therefore immoral.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed in San Francisco and alleges that the hospital discriminated against Minton last summer when it cancelled the scheduled procedure. Minton was later able to receive the procedure at another Sacramento hospital, but is seeking reparation for the initial disappointment after the hospital’s decision.

“It devastated me, and I don’t want it to affect my transgender brothers and sisters the way it affected me,” Minton said.

The lawsuit argues that the denial was a violation of California’s Civil Rights Act, which, in part, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The services we provide are available to all members of the communities we serve without discrimination,” hospital officials stated.

Catholic bishops in the U.S. have created a set of guidelines, based on Church teaching, that direct the way Catholic hospitals treat patients. These directives do not permit sterilizations for any reason, including for the purpose of a sex-change.

The state’s anti-discrimination law does not include any religious exemptions, and because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling several years ago, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) no longer applies to states.

RFRA — which was introduced in Congress by then-representative Chuck Schumer and signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton — established a strict-scrutiny test, requiring the government to demonstrate a compelling state interest in forcing religious citizens to violate their faith. The state is also required to pursue that end using the least restrictive means possible, so as to give religious Americans as much freedom as possible while still protecting the civil rights of others.

While RFRA would like protect the Church and this hospital — since Minton was able to receive the requested hysterectomy at a nearby hospital and therefore there was no compelling state interest in forcing this particular hospital to perform the procedure — it cannot be applied to California state law. As a result, Mercy San Juan will likely rest its defense case on the grounds of the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise of religion.

Editor’s Note: This article has been amended since its original publication to clarify the application of RFRA to this case.

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