January 8, 2016 — A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Tuesday refused to issue an emergency order that would have blocked a Catholic hospital in California from denying a woman's request for a tubal ligation, theSacramento Bee reports (Buck, Sacramento Bee, 1/6).
Sterilization is the second most common birth control method in the United States. 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 stricterenforcement 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 United States 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 the American Civil Liberties Union. 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 rejected requests from two other women -- Rebecca Chamorro and Lynsie Brushett -- seeking to undergo tubal ligation procedures immediately after giving birth.
Earlier this month, ACLU filed a lawsuit against the hospital on behalf of Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/4). According to the AP/Bee, Chamorro's physician, Samuel Van Kirk, is a member of PRH, and he said he has received at least two other tubal ligation requests.
On Wednesday, ACLU said it will file for a preliminary injunction against the hospital in the hope of scheduling a hearing next week, before Chamorro is expected to deliver. According to the Bee,Chamorro is scheduled to have a cesarean section Jan. 28. Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Northern California, said the lawsuit against the hospital will go forward regardless of whether the court considers the new motion. "It's not ideal," she said, noting, "Our client could deliver any day ... But there are still physicians who want to provide tubal ligations at Dignity Health hospitals and are being told they cannot do so" (Sacramento Bee, 1/6).