The ACLU filed suit in Michigan Nov. 29 against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying the religious directives enforced at Catholic hospitals resulted in the negligent care of a woman in great pain during a miscarriage.
The plaintiff, Tamesha Means, 27 and the mother of two, was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke. She went to the closest hospital to her home — Mercy Health Partners — in great pain.
Because of the Directives, MHP did not inform Ms. Means that, due to her condition, the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of surviving, and continuing her pregnancy would pose a serious risk to her health. Nor did MHP tell Ms. Means that the safest treatment option was to induce labor and terminate the pregnancy. MHP also did not tell Ms. Means that it would not terminate her pregnancy, even if necessary for her health, because it was prohibited from doing so by the Directives. Instead, MHP sent Ms. Means home and told her to see her doctor at an appointment scheduled for more than a week later.
The woman, still in terrible pain, returned to the hospital the next day, bleeding. The hospital sent her home again. She returned again that night, in pain, and with signs of an infection. The hospital told her she had to go home, but “the feet of the fetus breached her cervix and she began to deliver. The baby died shortly after birth. MHP then told Ms. Means she needed to make funeral arrangements.”
A pathology report on the placenta revealed that Means had acute, and sometimes life-threatening, bacterial infections from miscarriage process. The treating physician had suspected that was the case on Means’ second visit, but didn’t tell her.
The directives, written to provide “moral guidance” to the health care industry, apparently does not consider it amoral to put a woman’s life at risk by making her deliver a fetus that has no chance of surviving. The delivery must go on. There could have been two funerals for the Means family to plan that day.
The Washington Post writes about the lawsuit today, noting the increasing number of mergers involving secular hospitals with Catholic hospitals nationwide and the implications for women’s health care. Arkansas escaped such a merger when the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, finally recognizing that St. Vincent Health had no interest in a merger in which it did not call the shots, ended negotiations.
The lawsuit comes in the midst of a wave of high-profile mergers between Catholic hospitals and secular systems. The partnerships have raised questions about how care will be delivered at institutions guided by religious directives, particularly in rural areas like Muskegon where patients have little choice of where to be seen.
“As the number of Catholic hospitals increases, we’re highlighting the way they can constrain care,” Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director, said. “The suit is significant in that it’s calling attention to what is happening at these hospitals. In some instances, the directives are governing care rather than medical guidelines.”
The article cites a 2012 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that says 52 percent of obstetricians who work in Catholic hospitals say they’ve been in conflict with their hospitals over the directives.