The XX Factor

Catholic Hospitals Refuse Health Care to Pregnant Women. So the ACLU Is Suing. 

A gynaecologist delivers a woman’s baby in a maternity hospital.

Photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Under strict religious directives, Catholic hospitals refuse to help a woman carry out a miscarriage until the fetal heartbeat stops on its own. They also prevent doctors from performing tubal ligation—also known as getting your tubes tied—even if the procedure would benefit the woman’s health.

On behalf of women denied care in the name of those directives, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it is suing Trinity Health Corporation, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country. The formal complaint is based on the health system’s “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law,” according to an ACLU press release.

“We’re taking a stand today to fight for pregnant women who are denied potentially life-saving care because doctors are forced to follow religious directives rather than best medical practices,” Brooke A. Tucker, an ACLU of Michigan attorney, said in a release.

Those directives are set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which consider abortion and sterilization “intrinsically evil.” Catholic hospitals, which constitute more than 12 percent of hospitals in the U.S., have applied those rules to women in life-threatening circumstances.

One of those women is Jessica Mann, whose Michigan Catholic hospital refused to perform a tubal ligation despite recommendations from her doctors. Mann has a dangerous brain tumor, and getting pregnant again could pose serious health threats. In September, ACLU of Michigan sent a letter to the hospital urging them to reconsider the refusal. The hospital stood by their decision, citing the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.

“Rejecting us seems arbitrary and cruel,” Mann’s husband wrote in an essay published on Refinery 29.

In December 2013, ACLU sued the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf on Tamesha Means, whose water broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Instead of terminating the pregnancy and safely completing the miscarriage, Means said the Catholic hospital gave her false hope that the fetus could survive. After getting sent home twice, enduring “excruciating pain,” and developing an infection, Means finally miscarried the fetus in a painful, prolonged delivery, according to the lawsuit. That case is currently on appeal.