CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court will today hear a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf 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. The directives prohibit doctors working at Catholic hospitals from terminating a woman's pregnancy or providing information about abortion, even when the woman's health or life is at risk. The lawsuit charges that, because of the directives, the USCCB is ultimately responsible for the unnecessary trauma and harm that Tamesha and other pregnant women in similar situations have experienced at Catholic-sponsored hospitals.
"All women who rush to a hospital when something goes wrong with their pregnancy deserve to get the care and information they need," said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Brigitte Amiri. "Unfortunately, Tamesha Means did not get that care because the only hospital in her county is a Catholic one. The hospital and doctors were required to follow the bishops' rules, which place religious beliefs above medical practice."
In December 2013, the ACLU of Michigan and the ACLU sued the USCCB on behalf of Tamesha Means, a pregnant woman who was denied an emergency abortion while suffering a miscarriage. Instead of providing her appropriate care when she was in extreme pain and bleeding, the hospital turned her away multiple times while she was developing a severe, potentially life-threatening infection. The district court dismissed the case last year.
"I hope that my case will help ensure that when we enter into the medical system to seek care that we are truly receiving it, unbiased and with respect," said Means. "No woman should have to fear for her own life as she tries to create a new one."
One in six hospital beds in the country is in a facility that abides by Catholic directives.
In 2015, the ACLU of Michigan and the ACLU also filed a lawsuit against Trinity Health for its repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency care as required by federal law. The ACLU has 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. In another case, the ACLU represents Rebecca Chamorro and the Physicians for Reproductive Health in California against Dignity Health for prohibiting doctors from providing tubal sterilization at the time a woman gives birth. The California Medical Association, representing 41,000 doctors in the state, has asked to join the lawsuit. With the rise of Catholic hospitals in the U.S., more women are likely to be refused treatment.