SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 18, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A San Francisco judge dealt a Catholic hospital a victory in its fight for religious conscience rights last week.
Forcing Mercy Medical Center to sterilize a female patient is a violation of its religious freedom, Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled last Thursday.
“Religious-based hospitals have an enshrined place in American history and its communities, and the religious beliefs reflected in their operation are not to be interfered with by courts at this moment in history,” his ruling said, according to a New Boston Post report.
Rebecca Chamorro, who was originally scheduled to have a C-section February 4, had requested a tubal ligation after her delivery at the Redding, CA hospital because she and her husband did not want more children.
Mercy refused based upon its guiding principles for health care provided in accord with the Catholic Church's teaching, known as Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs).
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.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit in December on behalf of Chamorro and Physicians for Reproductive Health, challenging the hospital's use of the ERDs to refuse tubal ligations, naming both the hospital and Dignity Health, its parent company and the state's largest hospital provider.
The ACLU had alleged sex discrimination with the reasoning that prohibiting sterilization disproportionately impacts women, a report from The Guardian said, also claiming that Mercy arbitrarily allowed some women to be sterilized while refusing others.
However, Goldsmith discounted the ALCU claim in his decision, stating that the hospital's sterilization policy applies equally to men and women.
“The religious beliefs reflected in their operation are not to be interfered with by courts,” Goldsmith said in a hearing January 14. “There's no law that says that hospitals are mandated to perform sterilizations.”
Goldsmith also ruled that Chamorro could have the elective sterilization in another hospital and found insufficient evidence that Mercy permitted other female sterilizations strictly for contraceptive purposes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates some 15-plus percent of U.S. women of child-bearing age use sterilization as birth control.
Chamorro, whose delivery is now scheduled for January 28, criticized the judge's decision, saying, “It's unbelievable that the hospital where my doctor has admitting privileges is denying him the ability to provide a safe, legal and common procedure, especially considering that Mercy is my only real option.”
Chamorro's physician, Dr. Samuel Van Kirk, is also the OB-GYN for two other female plaintiffs for ACLU legal action against Mercy Redding.
Van Kirk stated in a court declaration that Mercy denied his request to perform sterilization on women an estimated 50 times in the last eight years.
Chamorro's ACLU attorney is considering appeal.
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“Catholic hospitals have been aggressively expanding over the past 15 years, and as our client is experiencing, they're the only option for care in a lot of cases,” Elizabeth Gill stated.
Dignity Health's counsel said Mercy Redding was within its rights to refuse the sterilization.
“This is a request for a Catholic hospital to forsake ethical and religious directive,” Barry Landsberg said. “This is a private Catholic hospital. It's not the public library. It can make decisions about the services it provides.”
Landsberg also said Van Kirk should have anticipated the denial of Chamorro's sterilization because he agreed to be bound by the ERDs when he applied for hospital privileges at Mercy.
Goldsmith recognized the implications of the ALCU's action against the Catholic hospital as it relates to religious conscience.
“I'd have blinders on if I ignored the essence of this lawsuit,” he said last Thursday. “It's about church and state. It's about exercise of religion and to what extent it can be regulated by a court.”
The ACLU taking legal action against Catholic health care providers or other Catholic entities for upholding Catholic teaching is nothing new.
The civil rights advocacy group also sued a Michigan Catholic hospital last year for refusing to sterilize a woman after her C-section and sued Trinity Health in Michigan, also in 2015, for its refusal to provide abortions.
In December, the ACLU contacted drugstore chain Walgreens to express concern over its partnership with Providence Health, worried the store might no longer provide contraception and abortifacients, or euthanasia drugs in states where they're legal, also questioning how Walgreens would treat LGBTQ customers in the wake of the partnership.
Back in 2013, the ACLU sued the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which produced the ERDs, claiming the directives amounted to medical negligence.