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ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Catholic Hospital for Denying Woman Tubal Ligation

January 6, 2015 — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital in California on behalf of a woman who was denied a tubal ligation procedure, New Republic's "Minutes" reports (Bruenig,"Minutes," New Republic, 12/29/15).

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. 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, the Vatican in the early 2000s 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.

In October 2015, Mercy Medical Center, which is owned by Dignity Health of San Francisco, reversed its decision and decided to perform a tubal ligation on a patient, Rachel Miller, following notice of a possible sex-discrimination lawsuit from ACLU. Dignity Health is the largest private health care system in California. More than half of its 32 hospitals in the state are affiliated with the Catholic Church.

The hospital, which had cited the directives in its original decision against providing the procedure, said it reconsidered after Miller's physician provided additional information. However, Mercy Medical Center recently has rejected requests from two other women -- Rebecca Chamorro and Lynsie Brushett -- seeking to undergo tubal ligation procedures immediately after giving birth (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/9/15). Chamorro is due to give birth in January.

Latest Developments

ACLU filed the lawsuit last month on behalf of Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health. In the lawsuit, ACLU argues that Mercy Medical Center's refusal to provide "pregnancy-related care" for non-medical reasons violates California law.

ACLU in an emergency motion seeks to block the hospital from refusing to allow Chamorro to undergo tubal ligation this month. A hearing on the motion will take place Jan. 5 ("Minutes," New Republic, 12/29/15).