For its part, Mercy San Juan Medical Center said in its court filing that the case “poses a profound threat to faith-based health care institutions' ability to advance their healing ministries consistent with the teachings of their faith.”
A San Francisco Superior Court judge initially dismissed Minton’s lawsuit, on the grounds that the hospital followed court precedent in rescheduling the patient quickly at a different hospital. However, an appeals court reversed this decision in September 2019, saying that the hospital still initially failed to provide services and arguably provided legal grounds for the discrimination complaint.
The appellate judge, Justice Stuart R. Pollock, said that any burden that the state law places on the exercise of religion is “justified by California's compelling interest in ensuring full and equal access to medical treatment for all its residents.”
In response to the Supreme Court decision, Dignity Health stressed its services for everyone.
“While we may not be able to provide every needed service at every hospital—no hospital can—Dignity Health does provide a range of services that LGBTQ people value and rely on,” the hospital system said. “For example, at many of our hospitals and clinics, we offer primary care and transgender health care services for transgender patients.”
Twenty-four of Dignity Health’s 39 hospitals are Catholic. However, Dignity Health’s website has an LGBT section that notes its secular hospital, Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, has a Gender Institute which provides “state-of-the-art gender-affirming services.” Three Dignity Health hospitals have won recognition by the LGBT group the Human Rights Commission.
Dignity Health is based in San Francisco. It is the largest hospital provider in California and the fifth-largest health system in the U.S. It traces its roots to the Sisters of Mercy hospital founded in San Francisco in the 1850s. A 1986 merger of the hospitals of two Sisters of Mercy congregations resulted in the creation of Catholic Healthcare West, which was renamed Dignity Health in 2012. Twenty-four of its 39 hospitals are Catholic.
The ACLU has long been a critic of Catholic ethics in Catholic hospitals, depicting these policies as a denial of care or discriminatory. It characterized Monday’s refusal of a Supreme Court hearing as a ruling that stopped “further attempts to authorize discrimination against trans people under the guise of religious liberty.”
On the ACLU’s web page for the Minon case, the legal group noted that one in six hospital beds across the U.S. is in an institution that follows the Catholic ethics of the U.S. bishops.
In March 2021 the ACLU renamed its LGBTQ & HIV Project in honor of donors Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelovic, his same-sex spouse, who gave $15 million in a single gift to the legal group. Stryker is a billionaire heir to the Stryker medical technology company. He is also the founder of Arcus Foundation, which funds both efforts to limit religious freedom and Christian groups, including Catholic dissenters, that want to change their churches’ teachings on marriage, sexual morality, and gender.
In a similar case, the ACLU is suing University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, a Catholic-founded hospital now in the University of Maryland Medical System, for declining to perform a hysterectomy on a self-identified transgender man. That case cited a 2020 Supreme Court decision that holds employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity to be a violation of U.S. civil rights law.
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