Reproductive Rights

Judge Rejects Order to Block Catholic Hospitals Denying Women Tubal Ligations

A San Francisco Superior Court judge declined to issue an emergency order that would prevent Mercy Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, from refusing a women’s request for a tubal ligation. According to the hospital, the sterilization procedure violates Catholic doctrine.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm, Covington & Burling LLP, filed a lawsuit against San Francisco’s Dignity Health—a healthcare network of which Mercy Medical is a part—following the hospital’s denial of patient Rebecca Chamorro’s request for a tubal ligation.

Chamorro is scheduled to undergo a Cesarean section on January 28 at Mercy Medical. She decided, after consultation with her doctor, to get a tubal ligation after the surgery. The hospital, however, has refused the doctor’s request to perform the surgery at Mercy Medical, citing a 2009 directive issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling the procedure “intrinsically immoral” and “evil.”

“The refusal of hospitals to allow doctors to perform basic health procedures based solely on religious doctrine presents a real threat to a woman’s ability to access health care,” said Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Patients seeking medical care from public institutions should not have to worry that religious doctrine rather than medical judgment will dictate what care they receive.”

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, tubal ligation, or “tying the tubes”, is one of the most popular methods of contraception and is employed by some 600,000 U.S. women every year. Safe and cost-effective, the procedure consists of the closing off of the woman’s fallopian tubes and is typically administered immediately following a Cesarean section, when the woman is anesthetized and the abdomen still open.

Chamorro is the third woman to contact the ACLU regarding Mercy Medical’s refusal to perform tubal ligation on religious grounds. Lynsie Brushett, whose baby is due March 26, was also refused the procedure. Last year, Rachel Miller was denied tubal ligation and ultimately filed suit in August 2015. Under legal pressure, Mercy Medical officials retreated from policy, reversing their decision and allowing Miller’s procedure to proceed.

The ACLU plans to continue its legal efforts on behalf of Chamorro, despite the last week’s decision by the San Francisco Superior Court judge. ““It’s not ideal. Our client could deliver any day,” said Gill. “But there are still physicians who want to provide tubal ligations at Dignity Health hospitals and are being told they cannot do so.”

Media Resources: The Sacramento Bee 1/6/16, 12/3/15; American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California Press Release 12/29/15; American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology 9/14/15; SFGate 8/24/15

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