ACLU Urges Michigan to Investigate Catholic Hospital’s Ban on Common Birth Control Procedure

December 04, 2014

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan in a letter today called on the state licensing and regulatory agency to compel a hospital near Flint, Mich., to lift its faith-based ban on a common birth control procedure because the prohibition needlessly exposes women patients to health risks.

“Hospitals have a duty, first and foremost, to the best medical interests of their patients,” said Brooke Tucker, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “Medical science, not religious doctrine, should guide the care that patients at any hospital receive. The state has an obligation to ensure that all hospitals that it licenses, regardless of their religious affiliation, are placing patient care above personal beliefs.”

In its letter to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), the ACLU of Michigan criticizes the ban on tubal sterilizations by Catholic-sponsored Genesys Health System of Grand Blanc, Mich., as a “decision to allow religious beliefs to supersede safe and appropriate patient care” and calls for an end to the policy to ensure that women aren’t unnecessarily endangered. Tubal sterilizations are the most common form of permanent birth control in the world.

The ban, implemented in November, stems from the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services that Catholic-sponsored hospitals must obey. The directives are written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), not medical personnel.

In most instances, pregnant women who deliver through Cesarean section (commonly known as a “C-section”) are able to undergo tubal sterilization shortly after giving birth without receiving extra anesthesia or additional surgery. Under the Genesys policy banning tubal sterilization, a woman who delivers via C-section would have to wait at least six weeks for her uterus to heal and then endure the risks of yet another surgery, including possible infection, at a different hospital.

In the letter, the ACLU cites the ordeal of a Genesys patient who had scheduled a C-section delivery and tubal sterilization before the policy was put into place — but was subsequently prohibited from having the procedure at Genesys. The only way for this patient (referred to in the letter as Mrs. B to protect her privacy) to have the procedure as scheduled would’ve been to petition a hospital administrator — one charged with overseeing religious matters but who had no medical expertise.

“With her baby due in less than two weeks,” the letter reads, “Mrs. B should not have been forced into the position of having to plead…about whether she can have this procedure simply because the hospital has decided to make health care decisions based on religious directives rather than the appropriate standard of medical care.”

The letter comes about a year after the ACLU of Michigan and national ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tamesha Means, a pregnant woman who miscarried and was denied appropriate medical treatment because the only hospital in her county is required to abide by the USCCB’s religious directives. The lawsuit charges that, because of the directives, the USCCB is ultimately responsible for the unnecessary trauma and harm that Ms. Means and other pregnant women in similar situations have experienced at Catholic-sponsored hospitals.

“The case of Tamesha Means highlights quite clearly why the state has to guard against allowing religious edicts to supplant appropriate standards for medical care,” said Tucker. “Ms. Means was made to suffer for no valid medical reason, which not only borders on the cruel but also grossly violates the most fundamental precept of the medical profession — which is to do no harm.”

In 2010, Ms. Means rushed to Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Mich. when her water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy. Based on the bishops’ religious directives that prohibit pre-viability pregnancy termination, the hospital did not tell Ms. Means that there was virtually no chance that her pregnancy could survive, and continuing the pregnancy posed significant risks to her health. Further, the hospital did not tell Ms. Means that terminating her pregnancy was an option and the safest course for her condition. Instead the hospital sent Ms. Means home twice.

When Ms. Means returned to the hospital a third time in extreme distress and with an infection, the hospital once again prepared to send her home. While staff prepared her discharge paperwork, she began to deliver. Only then did Mercy Health Partners begin tending to her miscarriage.

The lawsuit is currently pending before federal Judge Denise Page Hood.

Read our letter to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

Read about Tamesha Means

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