Court Refuses to Hear Case Brought by Pregnant Woman Denied Care at Catholic Hospital

June 30, 2015

A federal district court today dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan on behalf of a pregnant woman who was denied appropriate medical treatment because of the hospital's religious directives.

In terminating the lawsuit brought by Muskegon resident Tamesha Means against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan said it was doing so, in part, because resolution of the case would involve reviewing religious doctrine.

“With all I’ve gone through, this decision is a devastating blow to deal with,” said Ms. Means. “But I will continue to stand up and speak for every woman who’s suffered like I have at the hands of religiously affiliated hospitals. And I will keep working toward the day when the people responsible for our trauma will be held accountable.”

In 2010, Ms. Means rushed to Mercy Health Partners when her water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy. The hospital, which was the only one in Muskegon County, sent her home twice even though she was in excruciating pain. Because of its Catholic affiliation and binding directives, the hospital told Ms. Means that there was nothing it could do, and it did not tell Ms. Means that terminating her pregnancy was an option and the safest course for her condition.

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

“The court’s decision to dismiss this suit is deeply disappointing, but we will keep working to ensure that this wrong will be righted eventually,” said Brooke Tucker, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. “Tamesha’s suffering and trauma resulted directly from polices drafted by the Catholic bishops, non-medical professionals who let their religious doctrine trump patient care. Because of this, her very life was put at riskand no woman should ever be forced in that position.”

Catholic-sponsored hospitals are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The directives prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination, even when there is little or no chance that the fetus will survive and the life or health of a pregnant woman is at risk. They also direct health care providers not to inform patients about alternatives inconsistent with those directives, even when those alternatives are the best option for the patient's health.

“This decision deprives Tamesha her rightful day in court,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the ACLU. “Religious beliefs should not be allowed to take the place of medical judgment. Running a hospital is not the same as running a church.”

Because the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted the directives and imposes them on Catholic hospitals, the lawsuit charges it is responsible for the unnecessary trauma and harm that Means and other pregnant women in similar situations have experienced.