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A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Doctors Rally behind Tamesha Means Appeal, Woman Denied Emergency Medical Care Because Of Hospital's Religious Directives

ACLU Also Files Brief in Second Case Against a Large Catholic Health Care System For Denying Emergency Care to Pregnant Women


Medical professionals filed a friend of the court brief in support of Tamesha Means, a pregnant woman who was denied emergency medical treatment for a miscarriage because the hospital was prohibited from providing appropriate care by religious directives written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

These directives prohibit a doctor working at a Catholic hospital from terminating a woman's pregnancy, or even providing her with information about abortion, even when the failure to do so puts her health or life is at risk.

The brief was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the ACLU and ACLU of Michigan's ongoing case, Tamesha Means v. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, this past Friday, and it represents a variety of medical voices, all of whom work or teach in the Obstetrics and Gynecology field.

"Organizations involved in the delivery of healthcare must ensure that their patients are provided with access to emergency medical treatment and information regarding important therapeutic alternatives. Pregnant women receiving medical care in Catholic hospitals pursuant to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (the "Directives") deserve no less," reads the summary in the doctors' brief. "These women should not be categorically denied information about pregnancy termination as a medical option that may be necessary to protect and preserve their health."

In December 2013, the ACLU of Michigan and the ACLU sued the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Tamesha Means, a pregnant woman who was denied an emergency abortion while suffering a miscarriage because the only hospital in her county is required by the bishops to follow religious directives that put women's health at risk. Instead of providing her appropriate care, the hospital turned her away from the emergency room multiple times, causing her to develop a severe, potentially life-threatening infection. That case is currently on appeal, and the ACLU's filed its brief earlier this month.

Filing in Second Case Involving Denial of Reproductive Health Care by One of Nation's Largest Catholic Hospital Systems

In another case involving the denial of reproductive healthcare at Catholic hospitals, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan this week filed a brief on behalf of its members in a case against Trinity Health Corporation, which runs over 80 hospitals across the country. The ACLU brief opposes the alarming arguments made by Trinity that their government funded hospitals can refuse to provide emergency care to pregnant women because of their religious affiliation, despite the fact that such care is required by federal law.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2015 against Trinity for its repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency care as required by federal law.

"Legally and morally, saving a woman's life and health must be every hospital's first priority," said ACLU Staff Attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas. "Every pregnant woman who enters an emergency room should be guaranteed that she will get the care she needs, and should not have to worry that she won't get appropriate care because of the hospital's religious affiliation."

Trinity Health Corporation, which owns and operates 10 hospitals in Michigan and more than 80hospitals around the country, requires that all of its facilities abide by the religious directives.

The failure to provide pregnant women appropriate emergency care, including an abortion when the circumstances warrant, violates a federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, known as EMTALA. A public health educator in Michigan discovered that at one of Trinity's hospitals alone, at least five women who were suffering from miscarriages and needed urgent care were denied that care because of the Catholic directives.

The Prevalence of Catholic Hospitals Denying Women Care

Ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic-sponsored, and nearly one of nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility. The directives bar doctors at those hospitals from offering -- or even discussing -- certain reproductive health care services, even when those services are necessary to protect a woman' s health. As U.S. hospitals become increasingly affiliated with religious organizations, the health of American women is threatened by the refusal to provide medically appropriate and often times lifesaving services. National data show that 52% of ob-gyns working in Catholic hospitals had conflicts with their hospital policies.

In addition to the aforementioned cases, the ACLU also fought on behalf of Jessica Mann, a pregnant woman with brain tumors who was denied a potentially life-saving tubal ligation by Genysys Hospital in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and in two separate cases on behalf of Rachel Miller and Rebecca Chamorro and the Physicians for Reproductive Health in California against Dignity Health for denying tubal ligation procedures. In the case of Rachel Miller, the hospital caved under pressure and made exceptions for the procedure, but other women, including Ms. Chamorro, continue to be denied care. With the rise of Catholic hospitals in the U.S., more women are likely to be refused treatment.

The doctor's brief can be found at:

The Trinity Health brief can be found at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

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