ACLU Sues Catholic Hospital for Putting Religion over Medical Care

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services against a Michigan Catholic hospital for refusing to perform a postpartum tubal ligation on a pregnant brain cancer patient, a violation of the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Jessica Mann’s doctor had informed her early in her pregnancy that conceiving any additional children could be life-threatening, and recommended she undergo the sterilization during her cesarean section.  According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the fallopian tubes are cut through the same incision made for the cesarean, sparing a high risk patient the dangers associated with an additional round of anesthesia. The procedure is considered to be very quick and low-risk, and is a method of birth control used by over 10 million women in the United States.

The hospital waited more than three months to review the special request submitted by the patient’s doctor, eventually citing the Ethical and Religious Directives put forward by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as the reason for their refusal. The guidelines, frequently cited by Catholic hospitals, prohibit basic reproductive healthcare services for women, including contraception, sterilization and infertility treatments, as well as abortion—even when the patient’s life and health is at risk.

“At a time when I should have been focused on getting ready to bring my baby into the world, I instead had to frantically search for a new doctor and a new hospital to get the care I needed to protect my life, because the local hospital where I had been a patient for fifteen years forbid it,” said Mann in a statement. “I don’t want other women to be turned away from hospitals that let their religious views trump their patients’ serious medical needs.”

A report issue in May by the ACLU and MergerWatch found that one in six hospital beds in the country are located in Catholic facilities that deny critical reproductive healthcare services, even when the patient’s life is at risk. In some areas, more than 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a facility that follows Catholic directives, leaving many women without access to essential care.

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