After his doctors recommended a hysterectomy, Jesse Hammons recently went to the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center to get his procedure. The procedure is frequently given to transgender men who are experiencing gender dysphoria or are in the process of transitioning. But the Towson, Maryland-based health facility refused to move forward with Hammons' procedure, citing religious grounds. “I was shocked when I learned that the hospital cancelled my surgery just because I am transgender,” Hammons said in a press release. “The hospital will perform hysterectomies for everyone else, but they did not think that my life, as a man who is transgender, is equally worthy of protection.”
As a result of their refusal to treat a trans man, Hammons decided to take legal action. On July 17, Hammons and his representatives at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a lawsuit against the hospital, citing discrimination as the reason he was denied health care. Hammons is suing for violation of his First and Fourth Amendment constitutional rights and his rights under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in federal court.
“The government has no business running a religious hospital,” said Senior Staff Attorney Joshua Block with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. "A governmental entity cannot deny medical care based on religious beliefs, and it cannot discriminate against transgender people by denying them health care that is available to everyone else.”
According to the complaint provided by the ACLU and reviewed by Refinery29, about a week before his surgery was scheduled to happen, Gail Cunningham, the Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at the hospital, ordered for the surgery to be cancelled. The suit alleges that Dr. Cunningham told his surgeon not to perform the hysterectomy specifically because the surgery conflicted with the hospital’s Catholic religious beliefs and the Catholic Directives. Ultimately, Dr. Cunningham relayed that gender dysphoria didn’t qualify as a medical issue that the hospital is required to treat.
While The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) bought the hospital back in 2012, the health facility was previously part of Catholic Health Initiatives. According to a representative, the medical center "has been serving its community as a Catholic hospital since 1864." In accordance with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, medical workers there must strictly follow Catholic guidelines and directives. According to the hospital, the facility follows the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” drawn up by church officials. UMMS said in a statement to Refinery29 that they do not discriminate against patients based on "race, color, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation," but are unable to speak to specific legal proceedings.
Catholic health care organizations are not allowed to participate in actions the church finds “intrinsically immoral,” which include abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization, the complaint points out. Still, the hospital has routinely performed hysterectomies on cisgender women, alleges Hammons — and, although the hospital is technically a Catholic organization, the hospital's parent company is actually part of the University System of Maryland. For that reason, the ACLU says that it is still very much illegal for the facility, which is government-owned for all intents and purposes, to deny treatment to Hammons or any trans person on religious grounds, the filing highlights.
Cases like Hammons' are exceedingly common. Health care providers often fail to provide care to trans and non-binary patients, with the medical field as a whole having a vast history of discrimination towards trans people. The National LGBTQ+ Task Force found that 19% of trans people reported being refused care outright because they were transgender or gender non-conforming. A 2015 study from the National Center for Gender Equality found that trans or non-binary people reportedly experienced mistreatment when seeking health care. Approximately 33% of surveyed individuals who had seen health care providers within the year experienced some level of discrimination, including refusal of treatment.
Perhaps most jarring is the timing of Hammons’ case, which comes just weeks after the Supreme Court allowed employers religious and moral exemptions from a federal mandate that health insurance includes coverage for birth control. Ultimately, this gives more power to health care initiatives and institutions to also make religious and moral objections to treatment for patients in need.
The Trump administration also significantly rolled back discrimination protections for transgender people that were part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during Pride Month in June. So far, 22 states and Washington, D.C. are suing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over the anti-trans rollback.
Despite Hammons' shock over hospital treatment for his planned hysterectomy, he and his spouse are prepared for a court battle that could ultimately prevent other trans people seeking routine operations — for gender dysphoria or otherwise — from feeling the same type of discrimination.
“As Jesse’s spouse, I see the pain discrimination — and the fear of discrimination — causes on a daily basis,” said Hammons’s wife, Lura Groen, who is a reverend herself.” As a faith leader and taxpayer, I am appalled that this act was done at a government institution and in the name of religion.”