A transgender man filed suit against a Catholic hospital in New Jersey on Thursday for refusing to allow a surgeon to perform a hysterectomy on him at the facility.
In the latest salvo in an intensifying battle over the Obama administration’s controversial efforts to expand transgender rights, Jionni Conforti alleges in the suit that St. Joseph’s hospital in Paterson violated state and federal anti-bias laws by denying the procedure, in which his female reproductive organs would be removed.
“I am shocked and saddened by the treatment I received and I am afraid of how I would be treated if I need medical care again,” Conforti said in a statement issued by Lambda Legal, the nonprofit organization that filed the suit on his behalf. The hospital “completely disrespected who I am as a person and that is not how a hospital should treat people.”
In a brief statement Thursday, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center said it is “a leading Catholic healthcare institution serving one of the most diverse and underserved populations in New Jersey” and that it follows the guidelines for Catholic hospitals laid out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The suit comes as debate is growing over the Obama administration’s regulations on the issue of transgender discrimination, which it considers a form of sex discrimination. Some faith-based groups have objected to that interpretation, arguing that new federal regulations violate their religious freedom.
The debate flared last year when education officials sent letters to public schools directing them to let students use the restroom that matched their gender identity. Health officials also sparked controversy when they issued new rules barring hospitals that receive federal funding from denying gender-related services specifically to transgender people.
A federal judge temporarily blocked both rules. But other courts have agreed with the Obama administration’s rationale. In addition, Conforti’s attorneys said, the judge’s decision on the health rule does not apply to private citizens seeking to make individual claims.
The Supreme Court is slated this year to take up the question of how schools must treat transgender students’ use of bathrooms and other sex-segregated spaces.
In the complaint, Conforti says he was born with female anatomy but struggled with depression related to his physical form, particularly after his mother died of breast cancer in 2004. He began presenting as a man.
In 2014, after receiving a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria, he began taking male hormones and underwent a double mastectomy. But he was warned by his doctor that the hormone therapy could increase his cancer risk, so he decided to undergo a full hysterectomy, in which his female reproductive organs are removed.
Conforti called the hospital where his surgeon of choice was approved to do surgeries to confirm that the procedure could be done there. But he was turned down, he says in the complaint, in an email from Father Martin D. Rooney, director of pastoral care and mission services.
“This is to follow up to your e-mail inquiring about scheduling a total hysterectomy here at St. Joseph’s to remove all female parts based on the medical necessity for Gender Reassignment,” Rooney wrote, according to the complaint. “This is to inform you that as a Catholic Hospital we would not be able to allow your surgeon to schedule this surgery here at St. Joseph’s.”
The response “makes clear” that the hospital “denied Jionni’s medically necessary hysterectomy from being performed [there] because of” Conforti’s gender identity and “nonconformity with sex stereotypes,” the complaint alleges.