ACLU Sues Catholic Hospital System for Refusing to Perform Abortions

By Barbara Hollingsworth | October 2, 2015 | 11:28am EDT

( – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its Michigan affiliate are once again suing one of the nation’s largest Catholic hospital systems for refusing to perform abortions.

Trinity Health Corporation requires the 86 hospitals it owns and operates in 21 states to abide by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

“The Directives… prohibit Catholic hospitals from terminating the pregnancy of a woman suffering a pregnancy complication, even if such care is urgently needed to protect a woman’s health or life” in violation of the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, according to the lawsuit ACLU filed Thursday in federal court in Detroit.

It accuses Trinity of "refusing to providce pregnant women suffering emergency medical conditions with abortions necessary to stabilize them" on at least five occasions..

 “Defendants permit their hospital staff members to perform the same procedures that are also used to terminate a pregnancy, such as induction of labor and dilation and curettage, in other circumstances,” so providing abortions “would not impose an undue hardship on Defendants," the lawsuit stated.

“Absent declaratory and permanent injunctive relief, Defendants will continue to withhold emergency abortion care from pregnant women,” it continued.

According to the Directives, “Catholic health care ministry is rooted in a commitment to promote and defend human dignity; this is the foundation of its concern to respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until death.”

Directive 45 states that “abortion…is never permitted.”

Directive 47 states that “operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”

“Catholic bishops are not licensed medical professionals and have no place dictating how doctors practice medicine, especially when it violates federal law,” said ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Brooke Merriweather-Tucker.

But Eve Pidgeon, a spokeswoman for Trinity Health, told in a statement that “this case has no merit. A federal court already dismissed a similar ACLU claim, and we will seek dismissal of this suit for the same reason. 


“The Ethical and Religious Directives are entirely consistent with high-quality health care, and our clinicians continue to provide superb care throughout the communities we serve," Pidgeon said. 

"We are proud that more than 25,000 licensed physicians work directly with our health system and share our commitment to people-centered care."

On June 30, U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by ACLU against a Trinity hospital in Michigan, ruling that federal courts have no jurisdiction over USCCB policy directives, and that patients who believe they have not received appropriate medical care are free to file a malpractice suit.

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