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Colo. Will Not Sanction Catholic Hospital Over Abortion Dispute

Colo. Will Not Sanction Catholic Hospital Over Abortion Dispute

February 19, 2014 — Colorado health officials will not sanction a Catholic hospital that allegedly admonished a physician for a conversation he had with a patient about considering an abortion, the Durango Herald reports (Hanel, Durango Herald, 2/13).

The disagreement between cardiologist Michael Demos and Mercy Regional Medical Center over his handling of a pregnant woman's care prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado to file a complaint last fall with the state Department of Public Health and the Environment. Demos claimed that hospital officials reprimanded him after he told a pregnant patient who showed signs of a potentially fatal disorder that an abortion would be one of her options if she was found to have the disorder.

The hospital follows Catholic directives restricting procedures that violate church teachings. The complaint alleged that Mercy violated state law by telling its physicians and nurses that they cannot discuss abortion with patients, even if a pregnancy puts a woman's life at risk. ACLU of Colorado also alleged that Mercy's policy violates federal rules stipulating that patients be fully informed about their care (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/15/13).

State's Response

The department investigated the allegations but said it would not sanction Mercy because Demos practices in a clinic attached to the hospital and not the hospital itself. In a brief letter to Mercy, the department said, "The clinic where the event occurred is not licensed by the department and is not under its jurisdiction, therefore no deficient practice was cited."

Reaction

ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said the state's decision does not resolve the issue of what Demos can discuss with his patients. Silverstein added that until Demos is told otherwise by the hospital, "he remains in an unacceptable bind where he must choose between obeying the directive that was conveyed to him by the administrators last year and his medical and ethical obligations to his patients."

Meanwhile, a Mercy spokesperson said the hospital does not prevent its physicians from talking about medical options with their patients (Durango Herald, 2/13).