NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Memphis hospital says it has paused, not stopped, its gender-affirming services in response to possible legal action by civil rights advocates who argue the hospital’s move is illegal and discriminatory.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee accused Memphis-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare of halting all gender-affirming surgeries due to a newly adopted policy. The ACLU said its client, 19-year-old Chris Evans, was scheduled for surgery in November but was alerted less than a week before the procedure that it had been canceled.
The hospital, known as MLH, said in a statement that it has not changed its practices “regarding the treatment of transgender and/or non-binary patients.”
“In recent weeks, some care providers voiced questions about patients receiving gender affirming procedures at a facility affiliated with our health system,” spokesperson Rachel Powers said. “This resulted in a temporary pause to review current practices.”
The ACLU demanded in a letter to the hospital that officials reschedule its client’s surgery by the end of the year and “rectify its unlawful actions.” The ACLU also threatened to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
“We understand the physicians are moving forward with getting the patients rescheduled before the end of the year,” Powers said.
Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, an ACLU-TN attorney, said Monday that the hospital’s attorney had requested more time to investigate the situation and the ACLU agreed to hold off on filing a complaint with the federal government until then.
“Ending medically necessary healthcare for one particular group of people based on sex, whether by formal written policy or simply in practice, is discrimination and violates federal law,” Cameron-Vaughn said. “We will evaluate whether we need to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights once we have a response from the hospital.”
MLH is one of Tennessee’s largest providers for Medicaid and uninsured patients in the state. Its website says it serves more than 128,000 adult Medicaid patients each year.
Gender-affirming health care and transgender rights have faced increased scrutiny, particularly in Republican-led states like Tennessee.
Earlier this year, Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced it would pause all gender-affirming care for minors amid outrage about leaked videos showing a doctor calling gender-affirming surgeries “huge money makers.” Another video showed a staffer saying anyone with a religious objection should quit.
Republican leaders inside Tennessee’s GOP-controlled General Assembly have since vowed to ban gender-affirming care for minors during the upcoming 2023 legislative session — a promise that Republican Gov. Bill Lee has said he supports. However, to date, those lawmakers have not publicly demanded that hospitals halt all gender-affirming care, even for adults.