Woman sues Catholic bishops over treatment during miscarriage

Dec. 5, 2013 at 3:55 PM
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DETROIT, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- A Michigan woman who suffered a miscarriage after a Catholic hospital refused to end her pregnancy has sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Tamesha Means, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, charges doctors at Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon County were guided by the bishops' directives for Catholic hospitals and health providers, Courthouse News Service reported Wednesday.

The lawsuit does not name Catholic Health Ministries, Mercy Health Partners' religious sponsor, as a defendant. Stanley Urban, Catholic Health Ministries' chairman, and two former heads of the organization are listed as defendants, along with the bishops' conference.

The federal lawsuit says Catholic Health Ministries ordered the hospital to be guided by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, approved by the bishops' conference.

Means says she sought care at the hospital, the only one in Muskegon County, in 2010 when her water broke 18 weeks into her pregnancy. She was sent home with painkillers, returned to the hospital the next day and a third time that night. She was about to be sent home again when she had a miscarriage.

In her complaint, she says no one at the hospital told her the chance of delivering a viable baby was almost non-existent, that a termination was an option or that she could go to another hospital to have the procedure.

The complaint cites the bishops' directive on abortion: "Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic healthcare institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers."

In 2012, Savita Halappanavar, an expectant mother whose water broke prematurely, died at an Irish hospital of an infection after doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy as long as they could detect a fetal heart beat. The case led to a new abortion law in Ireland aimed at ensuring women will not be forced to continue pregnancies that put their lives at risk.

"They never offered me any options," Means said in a statement. "They didn't tell me what was happening to my body. Whatever was going on with me, they discussed it amongst themselves. I was just left to wonder, what's going to happen to me?"

John M. Haas, who heads the National Catholic Bioethics Center, would not comment directly on Means' lawsuit, the New York Times reported. But he said the directives do take into account the wellbeing of a pregnant woman and suggested some hospitals misinterpret them.

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