Appeals court tosses case against Catholic hospital that wouldn't abort baby

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A four dimensional ultrasound, showing the development of an unborn child in the womb. | REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

DETROIT, Michigan (Christian Examiner) – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has thrown out a case against a Catholic health care system that refused to abort a baby after its mother began having complications in the 18th week of pregnancy.

The case was filed by Tamesha Means and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2013 after Means sought care at Mercy Health Partners in 2010. According to the original complaint, Means went to the hospital after her water had broken early in her pregnancy.

The hospital, however, reportedly refused to abort the unborn child because of its longstanding policy of adhering to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which govern all Catholic hospitals and health care systems and are based on the doctrines of the Catholic Church. They are unabashedly pro-life directives.

According to the ACLU, the hospital turned Means away twice before she delivered the unborn child prematurely on her own. The baby died a short time after, but Means struggled with an infection afterwards, the complaint said.

In June 2015, a lower court threw the case out on procedural grounds but it was soon appealed to the Sixth Circuit. Late last week, the appellate court also ruled that the case had no merit, but it did not preclude other challenges from being brought in other states.

The ACLU called the decision a "narrow ruling." It was, however, one that was a victory for the church and the American Conference of Catholic Bishops, which created the health care directives.

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that the hospital was directly responsible for Means's injury. They were, Amiri said, following directives written by theologians and not physicians.

"Her suffering and trauma was a direct result of hospital policies drafted by non-medical professionals who let their religious doctrine trump patient care," Amiri said.

"While this is a deeply unjust result for Ms. Means, the court's decision today in no way sanctions turning away women based on a hospital's religiously based policies. Women have the right to know that when they go to an emergency room, their treatment will be determined based on their doctor's best medical judgment and not a hospital's religious restrictions," she added.

Planned Parenthood also responded to the court's dismissal of the case. Cecile Richards, president of the abortion mill, said the church-based hospital should not have turned away Means for "religious reasons."

"In some communities, these Catholic hospitals are the only health care providers available – leaving people with nowhere to turn for reliable access to basic, and often lifesaving, reproductive health care," Richards said.