Profile in Courage: Catholic Hospital Stands Up to Transgender Pressure
In January, Jionni Conforti sued St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, because in 2015 the hospital would not remove her uterus. Conforti, 33, identifies as “transgender” and wanted the surgery as part of trying to become a male. She had already had a double mastectomy. In June 2016, the Catholic hospital refused.
Conforti v St. Joseph’s
Conforti had the hysterectomy performed at another hospital, but still sued. She is asking the court to force the hospital to perform sex-change or “gender-reassignment” operations in the future and award her damages.
Her legal counsel, the homosexual organization Lambda Legal, argues that the hospital refused to perform “routine surgery” that was “medically necessary treatment for his gender dysphoria.” The refusal was “dangerous and humiliating” and violated both New Jersey law and the Affordable Care Act. Lambda Legal also claims the surgery was needed to reduce the risk of cancer from the hormonal treatment she was receiving, although the suit doesn’t mention this.
The hospital responded to the suit this past week, asserting that “the court system shouldn’t be able to interpret ethical and religious directives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops followed by the hospital.” The directives instructs a hospital not to perform medical procedures it finds “morally wrong.” The hospital asserts that the First Amendment right to freedom of religion protects its freedom of conscience. To force it to provide the procedure would “contravene Defendants’ sincerely held religious belief.”
Conforti’s lawsuit was filed several days after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked federal regulations that apply anti-discrimination laws to transgender patients. St. Joseph’s operates hospitals in Texas, and believes the injunction affects Conforti’s lawsuit.
Conforti’s Important Questions
The suit raises several important questions about religious health care. For example, how does a Catholic hospital treat someone whose choices it can’t affirm? Conforti’s lawsuit asserts that St. Joseph’s patient bill of rights says it guarantees medical services without discrimination based on “gender identity or expression.”
This is an incorrect interpretation, argues Marshall Connolly of Catholic Online. “Conforti deserves love, care and compassion, but this does not mean that Catholic teaching can change, or that a Catholic institution should be compelled to participate in a procedure which is contrary to the Church’s teaching and the Natural Law.”
A second question is how much freedom a religious hospital has when it disagrees with the wider society’s belief, and the wider society’s belief has been enshrined in the law. A lawyer for The Alliance Defending Freedom told Catholic News Services, “Our nation has long provided broad exemptions for organizations like this — for example, protecting them against being compelled to perform abortions.” Matt Sharp explained: “Those same protections should extend to organizations that decline to be part of the procedures like the one sought here — procedures that not only raise religious concerns, but that many doctors and psychiatrists also believe pose serious long-term risks to the patients.”
A third question is why transgender operations warrant such a high priority that the state believes it must require religious institutions to comply? Transgender activists are successfully forcing insurance companies to pay for these operations, while hundreds of other types of important operations go uncovered.
As Sharp observed, by including “gender identify” in non-discrimination laws, the laws “have been repeatedly used to target religious organizations and threaten them with costly fines, and even jail time, if they don’t forfeit their religious freedom and disavow their beliefs about the immutability of sex.”
The Bigger Fight
The suit against St. Joseph’s is part of a bigger fight to normalize transgenderism. That fight is also being fought in federal agencies, state legislatures and federal courts with attempts to rule that transgendered people may use the restroom or shower facility of their chosen gender, not their physical sex. It’s being fought out in the wider society, with groups like the NBA and NFL threatening to punish states that pass “bathroom bills.”
Where will this end? If someone thinks they’re an NBA player, should they sue a hospital for refusing to pump them with growth hormones and skeletal extension surgery? What other types of procedures will be forced on Catholic hospitals? How much will the religious liberty the Constitution guarantees be rejected when it conflicts with popular causes?
Forcing religious hospitals to provide costly gender reassignment surgery opens a Pandora’s Box that would be better left closed.