When the bishops say No

The good news is, the ACLU succeeded in convincing a Catholic hospital to provide a standard of care procedure despite its religious objections. The bad news is, it took the ACLU to get a Catholic hospital to provide a standard of care procedure despite its religious objections. All hospitals should be providing standard of care, and religion should have nothing to do with it. Hospitals are for medical treatment and care; they are not for religious observances. The function and purpose of hospitals is to provide treatment and care; it’s not to force patients to obey dogmatic harmful religious taboos. The religious beliefs or unbeliefs of the patients are none of the hospital’s business.

Under the threat of a potential lawsuit, a Catholic-affiliated hospital in California’s largest hospital network made an unexpected move. It approved a previously denied doctor’s request to perform a post-partum tubal ligation, also known as “getting your tubes tied.”

The approval from Mercy Medical Center was received yesterday, just days after we sent a letter on behalf of client Rachel Miller, charging that the hospital had unlawfully denied her reproductive health care.

They denied her the care on what grounds?

Rachel and her husband have one small child in their family and are eagerly expecting the arrival of their second baby next month. They have always known that their family would be complete with two children, so at the recommendation of her doctor, Rachel decided that she would like to get her tubes tied — a safe, standard and highly effective form of contraception — after she gives birth to their second child in late September. Her doctor fully supports this plan, as performing the procedure at the time of a C-section is the standard of care.

However, the hospital where Rachel is scheduled for delivery is part of a Catholic hospital system, and operates under binding “ethical and religious directives” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Applying these directives, which refer to sterilization for the purpose of contraception as “intrinsically evil,” the hospital denied Rachel’s doctor’s request to perform this common procedure.

Those grounds. Those grounds are grounds that should have no purchase in any health care system. None. Bishops should have nothing whatever to do with the running of any health care system. It’s not their job, it’s none of their business, they have no relevant competence. No hospital anywhere should be bound by any “ethical and religious directives” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. That should be right out. All hospitals should be required, with strict monitoring and enforcement if necessary (and it is very necessary), to provide standard of care no matter what the fucking Catholic bishops say.

After we sent a letter late last week threatening to file a lawsuit if the hospital didn’t allow Rachel’s doctor to perform the tubal ligation, the hospital agreed to grant an exception and Rachel’s doctor is now scheduled to perform the procedure when she gets her C-section.

While this is certainly a win for Rachel, there remains a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. All women should be able to make the medical decisions that are best for them, in consultation with their doctors. And religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to claim religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care.

That is correct. This needs to stop. Most people aren’t even aware of it – often the first they hear of it is when they are refused a procedure the way Rachel Miller was. This needs to be on everyone’s radar, and it needs to stop.

Catholic hospitals are increasingly ubiquitous in both California and across the United States, and they are often the only health care option for women, including in life-threatening emergencies. For instance, Rachel’s hospital is part of the Dignity Health hospital system, the fifth largest healthcare system in the country and the largest hospital provider in California, with 29 hospitals across the state. Because all of the surrounding hospitals with labor and delivery wards are also Catholic, Rachel would have needed to travel over 160 miles to get her tubal ligation covered by her insurance at the same time as her C-section.

And this isn’t some accident, either – Catholic systems are gobbling up all the hospitals so that they can force their loathsome dogma on unwilling patients.

Rachel’s story is not unique. To learn more about other women impacted by the Ethical and Religious Directives:

Tell everyone you know.

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