The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from a Catholic hospital in California that was sued after refusing to perform a hysterectomy for a transgender man.
The court's denial, issued without comment, sends the lawsuit back to state court for further proceedings against the hospital and avoids, for now, the issue of when claims of religious freedom can trump anti-discrimination laws.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch said the court should have taken the case.
The dispute arose when Evan Minton arranged with Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento to schedule a hysterectomy, which he considered a medically necessary step in his transition. After a nurse called to discuss the surgery and Minton mentioned that he's transgender, the hospital canceled the appointment.
Minton was able to schedule the operation three days later at a non-Catholic hospital. But he sued Mercy, claiming that it violated a state law guaranteeing full and equal access to public accommodations, regardless of sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
The hospital said it does not discriminate against transgender patients but does refuse to perform certain procedures, including abortion or sterilization, that would violate the Roman Catholic faith. Without the Supreme Court's intervention, lawyers for the hospital said, the state law "provides no protection whatsoever to religious health care providers that are compelled to allow procedures that violate their faith."
But Minton, represented by the ACLU, told the Supreme Court that the hospital routinely performed hysterectomies and that it canceled his appointment only after learning he was transgender.
"When I heard the news I remember being so devastated that I collapsed to the ground. I felt distraught and helpless that the hospital was refusing to treat me simply because of who I am," he told a congressional hearing last year.
The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, forbids hospitals and medical clinics to discriminate on the basis of sex. The Trump administration said that provision did not apply to LGBTQ patients.
But in May, the Biden administration announced that it will interpret the law as banning LGBTQ discrimination by medical facilities that receive federal funds. The Department of Health and Human Services urged patients who are denied care to file complaints.
The federal courts have yet to work out what the law's nondiscrimination provision means for hospitals run by religious organizations.
Evan Minton's lawsuit, which now goes back to the California courts, is based on state law claims, not Obamacare.