ACLU increases pressure on Catholic hospital refusing sterilization
Two Redding, CA women desiring tubal ligations after their upcoming C-sections are the latest potential plaintiffs for the ACLU in a litigation threat against Mercy Medical Center in Redding. Both women were denied the procedure after determining with their doctor that it was the best option for them, a report from the Sacramento Bee said.
The hospital, owned by Dignity Health San Francisco, refused based on its Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs), which are guiding principles for providing health care in line with Catholic Church teaching.
"Refusing to allow doctors to perform postpartum tubal ligations denies patients pregnancy-related care, and, as such, constitutes sexual discrimination," the ACLU stated in a December 2 letter to Dignity Health's CEO and Mercy Redding officials.
In its second such lawsuit threat against the Redding Catholic hospital since last fall, the ACLU said it would sue if Mercy does not act by Wednesday.
"The problem continues to be a conflict between the best interest of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system," Northern California ACLU's Senior Staff Attorney Elizabeth Gill said, going on to allege that the Catholic Church's directives were endangering women across the country.
"This is not an anomaly in Redding," Gill continued. "We're seeing a wide range of instances (nationwide) in which women's health is being put at risk by hospitals invoking the (Catholic church's) ethical and religious directives."
Mercy Redding had initially denied Rachel Miller a sterilization procedure in August of this year based on the ERDs. The hospital later reversed its decision after the ACLU threatened suit based on the hospital's denying Miller "pregnancy-based care."
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The two women who are current plaintiffs for the ACLU are due to deliver their children in February and March of next year. One of the women, Lynsie Brushett, said she had a difficult first pregnancy and that a second child is all she can safely afford.
"It was worth the risk, but I know my body can't handle any more pregnancies," Brushett said. "We decided a tubal ligation was the best option to prevent any future unintended pregnancies, for my health and my family."
All three of the women at the heart of the ACLU's legal threats toward Mercy Redding – Brushett, Miller, and Rebecca Chamorro – have the same obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Samuel Van Kirk, according to the newspaper report. His receptionist said he had no comment and referred inquiries to the ACLU.
The Catholic directive pertaining to sterilization states:
Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.
Dignity Health said in a statement that it could not comment on an individual patient's care or the ACLU letter but confirmed that tubal ligation and other sterilization procedures are not performed in Catholic hospitals following the ERDs unless they are essential to alleviate "a present and serious pathology and (when) a simpler treatment is not available."
Dignity Health also stated that "the patient's physician makes arrangements for the care of his/her patient at a facility that does provide the needed service" when it does not provide a requested procedure.
"The directives prohibiting direct sterilization ignore recommended medical practice," said Dr. Pratima Gupta, a Bay Area OB-GYN and spokesperson for Physicians for Reproductive Health, which supports the ACLU's action against the Catholic hospital. "Unfortunately, these cases are neither surprising nor unique given the growth of the Catholic hospital system, which has left many women with very few places to turn for reproductive health care."