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ACLU: Catholic hospitals must save women

PHOENIX, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. medical regulators must ensure Catholic hospitals protect women's lives and supply needed services, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The group sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services citing the actions of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. Olmsted Tuesday declared St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix no longer follows Catholic teaching.

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Olmsted, speaking at a news conference, said he had learned of violations of church teaching on birth control, abortion and sterilization, The Arizona Republic reported. He said he had been looking into the hospital's policies since the ethics committee agreed to end the pregnancy of a woman suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension.

"It would be unfaithful to pretend the institution is still Catholic," he said.

Olmsted excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, a hospital vice president, after she participated in the decision. Doctors had said the woman, 11 weeks pregnant, was likely to die if the pregnancy continued.

"The Bishop's drastic and heavy-handed actions send a chilling message to Catholic hospitals throughout the country, as well as their employees: If hospitals comply with federal law and provide emergency abortion care there will be consequences," the ACLU said. "The dioceses cannot be permitted to dictate who lives and who dies in Catholic-owned hospitals."

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The bishop said the hospital has been complicit in other violations through Mercy Care Plan, the state plan that provides health coverage for the poor. His adviser on medical ethics said St. Joseph's has eased the way for people covered by the plan who want contraception and sterilization, even if the hospital is not directly involved.

Linda Hunt, the hospital president, said St. Joseph's would continue to provide for the community. It was founded in 1895 by the Sisters of Mercy religious order.

"We are the same hospital as we were yesterday and will be tomorrow," she said. "The Sisters of Mercy are still here, and we will still follow the directives as well as we can."

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