Catholic Hospital Agrees to Sterilization after Lawsuit

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On Monday, Mercy Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Redding, California, capitulated to pressure from the ACLU and decided a pregnant woman could be given post-birth sterilization.

The medical center, owned by Dignity Health, California’s biggest health-care network, based in San Francisco, had stated last April that it would not condone a tubal ligation for Rachel Miller, an attorney from Redding. The hospital buttressed its argument by citing the Catholic Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives, which called sterilization “inherently evil.”

The threatened lawsuit argued that the hospital was discriminating against Miller, writing that the hospital was denying Miller medically indicated pregnancy-related care, and choosing “theological tenets over patient health.”

On Tuesday, the ACLU stated that the hospital’s reversal of its position still did not satisfy them; Elizabeth Gill, senior attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, told the Huffington Post:

While we’re grateful Mercy Medical has agreed to provide medical care in this instance for Ms. Miller, the reality remains that there is a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. Religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to hold religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care. With Catholic hospitals increasingly prevalent, including as the only option for some women, Rachel is just one of many women who risk being denied care, because Catholic bishops are telling medical professionals how to operate.

The ACLU asserted that no other hospitals exist within a 70-mile radius of Miller’s home that have birthing facilities and are not connected with the Catholic Church.

Direct Health’s general counsel told Gill that the sex discrimination claim had no merit, as the hospital will not sterilize men or women. In a letter, the health group asserted that the hospital’s sterilization policy only allows sterilization to reduce or eliminate “a present and serious pathology” when “a simpler treatment is not available.”

A spokeswoman for the hospital emailed HuffPost a statement regarding the hospital’s standards, reading, “What we can share is that in general, it is our practice not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health’s Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) and the medical staff bylaws. As such, tubal ligations are not performed in Catholic hospitals except on a case-by-case basis where a formal review by a committee of physicians and others gives permission to perform the procedure.”

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology claims tubal ligation can be seen as “urgent” medical care because it helps prevent future pregnancies in a safe manner.


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