UMMS refused to perform gender-affirming surgery; federal court ruled discrimination

The Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical System scheduled a gender-affirming surgery for a transgender man, but canceled it the night before the procedure was set to take place. That was a violation of the Affordable Care Act, a federal court ruled Jan. 6. 

In late 2019, a transgender man named Jesse Hammons visited St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Md. A physician at the hospital scheduled Mr. Hammons for a hysterectomy to treat his gender dysphoria, The Baltimore Banner reported Jan. 7. 

Gail Cunningham, MD, the hospital's chief medical officer, ordered the procedure to be canceled in accordance with National Catholic Bioethics Standards, which prohibit Catholic hospitals like St. Joseph's from performing gender confirmation surgeries. The physician called Mr. Hammons and canceled the night before the surgery. 

In a statement, UMMS said the "surgeon mistakenly [scheduled] a procedure that could not be performed at the hospital." Additionally, the health system said it offered the surgery to Mr. Hammons at a different hospital, which he refused. 

When UMMS purchased St. Joseph Medical Center in 2012, it agreed to continue operating the hospital under Catholic directives, according to the Banner. But the hospital receives federal Medicaid and Medicare funding, and under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, it can not descriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. 

District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled that UMMS violated the ACA by denying Mr. Hammons a procedure it performs for other patients, simply because he is transgender, The Hill reported Jan. 6. She ruled in favor of a summary judgment, and no damages have been determined. 

"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," a spokesperson for the health system told The Hill. The spokesperson said UMMS is "carefully reviewing" the judge's decision, which it largely disagrees with. 

"This is a great win for myself and all transgender people denied equal treatment because of who they are," Jesse Hammons said in a Jan. 6 news release from the ACLU. "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." 

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