DETROIT, MI, December 3, 2013 ( – On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opened a new front in the culture wars with a lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) alleging that the USCCB’s directives prohibiting abortions in Catholic hospitals are equal to medical negligence.

The lawsuit focuses on the case of Tamesha Means, who in 2010 was brought to Mercy Health Partners, a Catholic-affiliated hospital in Muskegon County, Michigan after her water broke at 18 weeks. 

In the lawsuit, Means claims she visited Mercy three times after her water broke, and that by the third visit she had an infection, but the hospital tried to discharge her anyway. During the discharge she began to give birth, at which point she was treated. The baby died shortly after birth. 


The ACLU claims that the appropriate care in the case would have been to induce labor to avoid the chance of infection, since the baby had a slim chance of survival. But because of the USCCB's Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, it claims, the hospital was prevented from treating Means in the proper way. Because Means' baby was pre-term, inducing labor would have virtually ensured the death of the child. 

The USCCB’s directives state that “abortion…is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion…” The lawsuit is targeting the USCCB, not Mercy. It also names as defendants the current and two former chairs of the Catholic Health Ministries, which requires Mercy to abide by the Religious Directives. 

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“A pregnant woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care has the right to expect that the hospital’s first priority will be to provide her appropriate care,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “Medical decisions should not be hamstrung by religious directives.” 

In the press conference announcing the lawsuit, University of Wisconsin Medical School obstetrician Douglas Loube claimed that Means received care that qualified as “basic neglect,” and also said the pregnancy “could have turned into a disaster, with both baby and mother dying,” according to the New York Times. Loube has been an abortion advocate and provider since 1974.

Four other women are cited in the lawsuit as having “miscarried before the fetus was viable” because Mercy “had not induced labor” and the women were “diagnosed with preterm premature rupture of membrane [PROM].” 

According to the lawsuit, the Vice President of Mission Services for Mercy, Joseph O’Meara, defended the hospital in these five cases, noting all were handled in accordance with the Directives. 

Thomas Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of Thomas More Society, told he was “incredulous” that the ACLU would file such a suit. “They are certainly trying to strike a body blow against religious freedom. They are coming at the Church in a way that seems to clash against religious liberty and the First Amendment.”

“I cannot believe they would bring this lawsuit forward and claim they support the First Amendment, the right to profess and practice religious beliefs,” he said. 

Last month, the ACLU also wrote a letter to Colorado officials, complaining that by following the USCCB's directives Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colorado was violating federal laws about informing patients of care. The letter claimed that Mercy disciplined a doctor who had recommended abortion to a patient who he thought may have Marfan syndrome, which he told her could be life-threatening if she continued her pregnancy.

Later tests revealed that the woman was healthy and she gave birth successfully, according to the Durango Herald. The woman herself complained to the hospital about the fact that the doctor had recommended abortion.

The ACLU said state law prevents hospitals from attempting to control a doctor's judgment as a professional, and getting in the way of a doctor's responsibilities to patients. In this case, the ACLU specifically targeted the hospital, not the USCCB. reached out to the ACLU for comment, but as of press time no comment had been received. 

Co-authored with John Jalsevac