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ACLU Sues Catholic Bishops Over Hospital Religious Directives

PHOTO: The ACLU alleges that Catholic hospitals are putting pregnant women's lives in danger and tying doctors' hands by not allowing for all treatment options. Photo credit: freestockphotos.com.
PHOTO: The ACLU alleges that Catholic hospitals are putting pregnant women's lives in danger and tying doctors' hands by not allowing for all treatment options. Photo credit: freestockphotos.com.
December 3, 2013

MUSKEGON, Mich. - A Michigan woman's miscarriage is now at the center of an ACLU lawsuit over the religious directives that govern the practices of Catholic hospitals in the United States. Tamesha Means was rushed to Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon when her water broke just 18 weeks into her pregnancy. She said the hospital twice sent her home in severe pain and distress, and did not tell her that terminating the pregnancy was an option.

Catholic-sponsored hospitals are required to adhere to directives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination, even when there is little or no chance the fetus will survive or when the woman's health could be in danger.

According to Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, the case reaches beyond any one woman or hospital.

"It's about rules that tie the hands of doctors at Catholic facilities, and that's why we've named as our defendant the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops," she said.

The Catholic Church defends a fetus' right to life, although the guidelines for Catholic health care services do allow abortion when a woman's life is imminently at risk. However, experts say how this situation is defined is not clear.

Melling said the ACLU's position is that the ambiguity surrounding this rule is unfair, both to health care providers and to their patients.

"Barring doctors, by way of the directive, from giving women all information and care appropriate to their condition is wrong," she stated. "Today, we're shining a spotlight on that practice and calling for its end. "

In the case of Tamesha Means, Mercy Health Partners was the only hospital within 30 miles.

The ACLU has filed a similar complaint against a Colorado Catholic hospital, alleging that it is violating federal and state law by directing doctors not to discuss abortion with its patients.

The legal complaint is online at bit.ly/18ytlt9.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI