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ACLU Threatens Legal Action Against Mich. Catholic Hospital for Denying Medically Advised Tubal Ligation

ACLU Threatens Legal Action Against Mich. Catholic Hospital for Denying Medically Advised Tubal Ligation

September 15, 2015 — The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday sent a letter to a Michigan Catholic hospital threatening legal action for denying a woman a medically advised tubal ligation, the Washington Post reports (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 9/13).

Background

Sterilization is the second-most-common birth control method in the U.S. Ob-gyns often perform tubal ligations in conjunction with cesarean sections so women do not require a second surgery for the sterilization. A sterilization procedure is performed at the end of about one in 10 U.S. childbirths. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a tubal ligation immediately following a woman's last intended pregnancy should be considered "urgent" care because it is so safe and effective.

In the past, some Catholic hospitals provided sterilizations if they were medically indicated, such as when a woman was undergoing a C-section and another pregnancy would present a health risk. However, around the early 2000s, the Vatican sought stricter enforcement of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which ban Catholic facilities from performing sterilizations, abortions and certain other procedures. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic hospitals in the U.S. increased by 16% from 2001 to 2011 (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/26).

Details on Tubal Ligation Denial

Jessica Mann, who is pregnant with her third child, was diagnosed 10 years ago with a certain type of brain tumor that can cause blindness, paralysis and other problems. She was advised by her doctor to undergo a tubal ligation after the birth because of her condition.

Genesys Regional Medical Center enacted a policy against sterilization in October 2014, citing the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, but noted it would make exceptions for medical reasons. Mann requested such an exception from the hospital in May but was denied earlier this month.

Genesys administrators suggested that Mann could give birth at their hospital and get a tubal ligation at a different hospital later. However, Mann's doctor said a separate surgery could be equally as harmful to her health as another pregnancy. Mann currently is seeking out a new hospital where she can give birth and undergo the sterilization procedure.

ACLU officials said federal laws allowing medical providers religious exemptions from providing some services do not apply in Mann's case, and the directives' focus on reproductive health disproportionately harms women. Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney at ACLU, said, "These ethical and religious directives single out women and care that women need."

Meanwhile, in a separate case in Michigan, the ACLU is appealing a decision earlier this year in support of a Catholic hospital that failed to advise a woman of the option of terminating her pregnancy when her water broke at 18 weeks. She later contracted an infection and miscarried (Washington Post, 9/13).