ACLU Asks that Religiously-Affiliated Hospitals Provide Required Reproductive Healthcare

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service in a letter late last week “to ensure that religiously-affiliated hospitals provide emergency reproductive care as required by federal law,” including emergency abortions. All hospitals receiving federal funds must provide all necessary emergency medical reproductive procedures despite religious affiliation under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and the Conditions of Participation of Medicare and Medicaid (COP) according to the ACLU’s letter (see PDF). The ACLU letter details several instances where patients in life-threatening positions were denied medically necessary procedures at Catholic-affiliated hospitals. The ACLU writes, “EMTALA requires hospitals to stabilize or transfer patients who are facing an emergency; however, a hospital cannot transfer a patient until she is stable.” Currently, patients can be trapped at Catholic hospitals because they are too ill to be transferred and cannot receive necessary medical care. Under COP, patients must have full access to all available medical options and may request or deny any medical procedure. The case that initiated ACLU action occurred in Arizona at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center after Sister Margaret Mary McBride was reassigned and “automatically excommunicated” in 2009 for approving an emergency abortion for a patient who suffered from pulmonary hypertension, which limits heart and lung function and can be fatal during pregnancy. The patient would have died if she had not had an abortion. McBride was a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. Daniel Pochoda, legal director of the Arizona ACLU said in a press release, “While the hospital in this case made the right decision in saving this woman’s life, the subsequent treatment of the staff could have a chilling effect on the staff at hospitals across the country that may face similar situations in the future.” He continued, “religiously-affiliated hospitals – which are often the only hospital in a particular area – are not exempt from providing critical care to patients who come through their doors.”


Feminist Daily Newswire 5/18/10; ACLU Letter 7/1/10; ACLU Press Release 7/1/10

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