Wash. Times Misleads On ACLU Lawsuit Against United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops


Washington Times columnist Robert Knight falsely claimed that a lawsuit of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an assault on religion that is trying to "force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions." In fact, if the complaint is accurate, it is a straightforward negligence claim that alleges a pregnant woman's life was needlessly put in harm's way when she was denied appropriate care by a Catholic hospital adhering to binding directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

On November 29, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman who alleges she was denied proper and ethical medical care for an emergency miscarriage by Mercy Health Partners (MHP), a Catholic hospital under the authority of the USCCB. The USCCB forbids hospitals like Mercy from assisting in or facilitating abortions.

According to Means' complaint, she went to the emergency room at Mercy when she started to miscarry at just 18 weeks. Despite the fact that the fetus would most likely be stillborn or "die very shortly thereafter," doctors at Mercy never provided information about the option of an abortion, even though prolonging the pregnancy was life-threatening. Instead, Means says, the hospital sent her home twice -- even though she was having contractions, was in pain, and bleeding. On Means' third visit to Mercy's emergency room -- the only hospital reportedly within a half-hour's drive of her home -- she went into labor. Means' baby died just two hours after delivery.

In his December 5 editorial, Knight mischaracterized the basis of the lawsuit, complaining that the ACLU is attempting to "force Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions":

The ACLU wants Catholic hospitals to practice medicine without morals.

The American Civil Liberties Union is so upset that a Michigan baby died just after being born that the group is suing the Catholic Church for not deliberately killing the child earlier.

In a lawsuit filed on Nov. 29 against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in U.S. District Court in Michigan, the ACLU contends that the church's medical directives reflecting a pro-life stance against abortion resulted in negligent care for a woman with a troubled pregnancy who eventually lost the child.

"It's not just about one woman," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, in a Newsmax report quoted in The Washington Times. "It's about a nationwide policy created by nonmedical professionals putting patients in harm's way."

Translation: Either the Catholic Church directs Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or it will be bankrupted, courtesy of the ACLU, which fights for the "right" to abort even full-term, healthy babies.


This is about far more than Ms. Means' tragic situation or one hospital's alleged negligence. It's about forcing Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions. It strikes at the very heart of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. It's a corollary to the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate under Obamacare that faith-based institutions or businesses run by devoutly religious owners provide contraceptives regarded as abortifacients or face ruinous fines.

Since only the Catholic Church bothered to build a hospital within 30 minutes of Ms. Means' home, the ACLU contends that the facility should operate without religious principles guiding it or simply switch to the ACLU's brand of moral relativism, where unborn children are merely options.

It's like building the only power plant and providing electricity where there was none and then getting sued for not electrocuting the people that the ACLU thinks are expendable.

But this complaint is not questioning the religious faith of Catholic doctors. Following basic personal injury law and theories of vicarious liability, the ACLU alleges that because the USCCB required an anti-abortion policy at the Catholic hospital, the USCCB was responsible for egregiously substandard medical care.

As the ACLU points out, it is "nonmedical professionals" that create the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services that doctors at Catholic hospitals must follow. These directives eliminate the ability of those doctors to use their own medical discretion when treating patients -- doctors must substitute their own judgment with the directives' mandates. The directives prevent doctors at Mercy, and all Catholic hospitals under the USCCB, from providing patients with comprehensive medical advice and services with respect to abortions, contraception, or sterilization. They not only prevent doctors from performing abortions -- even if the mother's health is at risk -- they prohibit them from even telling patients in crisis that terminating a pregnancy could be the safest treatment option.

Because doctors were forced to prioritize Catholic directives over their patient's health, Means' pain and miscarriage were unnecessarily protracted and she contracted a serious infection. Means was never informed "that the safest treatment option was to induce labor and terminate pregnancy." Not only could doctors at Mercy not induce labor and terminate Means' pregnancy, they evidently refused to refer her to a different hospital that could have, because of the USCCB's directives.

From the ACLU complaint that Knight claimed promotes "medicine without morals":

20. MHP did not inform Plaintiff that in most cases, an amniotic fluid index of 3.4 at 18 weeks of pregnancy, in the context of premature rupture of membranes, means that the fetus will either not be born alive or will be born alive and die very shortly thereafter.

21. MHP did not inform Plaintiff about the serious risks to her health if she attempted to continue the pregnancy.

22. MHP did not raise or discuss with Plaintiff the option of terminating her pregnancy, despite the risks to her health of continuing the pregnancy, nor the fact that the fetus she was carrying had almost no chance of survival.

23. MHP did not inform Plaintiff that MHP's policy does not permit it to help Plaintiff complete the miscarriage, e.g., by inducing labor and terminating the pregnancy, as long as there is a fetal heartbeat.

24. MHP did not inform Plaintiff that if she desired to terminate her pregnancy she would have to go to another hospital.


57. [According to the Vice President of Mission Services of MHP] upon review of Plaintiff's chart by a MHP physician, MHP's decision not to induce labor was proper because Defendant USCCB's Directives prohibited MHP from inducing labor in that situation.

This lawsuit is significant given the limited health care options available to Tamesha Means. For Knight to characterize the case as one about "deliberately killing" children is misleading -- it's about ensuring that women with medical emergencies have access to comprehensive, adequate health care.

Photo via Flickr.
Posted In
Reproductive Rights, Justice & Civil Liberties
The Washington Times
Robert Knight
Courts Matter
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