Court tosses ACLU lawsuit to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)A four dimensional ultrasound, showing the development of the fetus in the womb. The ACLU sued a Catholic hospital system in Michigan, hoping to force it to perform abortions. The court dismissed the case April 11.

DETROIT – A federal court on Monday slapped down a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that sought to force a Catholic hospital system to violate its own pro-life policies in order to perform abortions.

In a 13-page ruling, the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan (Southern Division) said the ACLU had no standing to make a complaint when it claimed the hospital system's policies would prevent the termination of a pregnancy in order to stabilize a mother's condition – primarily because the suit didn't pertain to actual events experienced at the hospital.

The events, instead, were regarded as hypothetical by the court, which also claimed the case was not "ripe for review" because no one had been factually injured by the hospital system's policies.

No law requires religious hospitals and medical personnel to commit abortions against their faith and conscience, and, in fact, federal law directly prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion. As we argued in our brief to the court, the ACLU had no standing to bring this suit and demand this kind of government coercion.
- Kevin Theriot, ADF Sr. Legal Counsel

Trinity Health Corporation, which operates nine hospitals in Michigan and more than 90 hospitals and continuing care facilities around the country, adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health, which is provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Directive 45 states in the policies, "Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability of the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted."

Trinity Health, along with the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists all joined the case. Alliance Defending Freedom intervened on their behalf.

"No American should be forced to commit an abortion—least of all faith-based medical workers who went into the profession to follow their faith and save lives, not take them," Kevin Theriot, ADF's senior legal counsel, said in a statement following the court's ruling.

"No law requires religious hospitals and medical personnel to commit abortions against their faith and conscience, and, in fact, federal law directly prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion. As we argued in our brief to the court, the ACLU had no standing to bring this suit and demand this kind of government coercion," Theriot said.

ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman said the court acted correctly, viewing the case as one based on "pure speculation."

This isn't the first time the ACLU of Michigan has gone after Catholic hospitals in Michigan. In September 2015, the ACLU and American Atheists both were up in arms because a hospital in Grand Blanc, Mich., denied a birth control procedure (tubal ligation) to a pregnant woman suffering from a brain tumor.

On Sept. 21, the ACLU sent a letter to Genesys Health System, another Catholic system in the state, asking the hospital to reconsider the decision.

In a letter to the hospital, the ACLU of Michigan's staff attorney, Brooke Tucker, said the hospital – in spite of its Catholic views on birth control and sterilization – had no right to deny the medical procedure to the woman, who had delivered other children at the hospital. Tucker said the policy against sterilization was only implemented in 2014.

Tucker called the hospitals policies, based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church, "callous."

The hospital's vice president for administration, Andy Kruse, responded to the letter and noted, just as Trinity Medical did, that the hospital was a Catholic facility that follows the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.

The American Atheists, a group founded in 1963 following the Murray v. Curlett Supreme Court case that removed prayer from public schools, claimed after that case that it wanted the government to enact legislation to require health care providers – specifically those with religious affiliations – to inform patients, insurance companies and government agencies what procedures they will not perform because of religious belief.

Amanda Knief, national legal and public policy director for American Atheists, said in a statement that the organization didn't want to force provides to perform procedures to which they have a religious objection.

"What they can't do is pull a bait and switch on patients and potential patients," Knief said.

It is unclear to which "bait and switch" Knief was referring, as the Catholic Church has opposed artificial birth control since its foundation. In 1968, Pope Paul VI laid out the historical case for the church's position in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Opposition to birth control among catholic Christians extends back to the second century A.D.