ACLU sues Catholic bishops over policy denying reproductive care

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Catholic Church dogma on abortion endangers the lives and health of women. That’s the basis of a bold lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Tamesha Means against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is the first such case to go after the bishops directly.

Gross negligence. At just 18 weeks of pregnancy, Means’ water broke and she sought emergency treatment at Mercy Health Partners, the only hospital in Muskegon County in Michigan. Despite her excruciating pain and risk of infection Mercy Health twice sent her home. Only when she returned a third time and began delivery did the hospital treat her. This type of ill treatment happens at Catholic facilities all the time, because directives from bishops prohibit pregnancy termination even when there is no chance that the fetus can survive. A recent study by Ibis Reproductive Health shows that the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services “have denied women enduring both ectopic pregnancies [developing outside the womb] and miscarriages the treatment and information to which they are legally entitled.”

A growing business. The Catholic Church is expanding its lucrative medical empire by merging with more and more secular facilities, frequently publicly funded and overpowered by Church wealth. When the Church takes over, it puts an end to the reproductive care that used to be provided. Astonishingly, Catholic hospitals control one in six patients in the U.S.

Outside of the United States, these issues are also coming to a head in prominently Catholic countries. In 2012, an Irish hospital denied Savita Halappanavar an abortion after a miscarriage. She endured days of needless suffering and died of a massive infection. In El Salvador, whose constitution bans abortion, a 16-year-old girl died because she could not get life saving chemotherapy while pregnant.

More bad news for women in the U.S. came on January 1. After a sudden rush to courts by Catholic affiliated organizations, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted them a temporary injunction from the new law requiring the Church — like all employers — to provide contraceptive-related insurance.

The good news? Far more people support the ACLU case and defend abortion as a necessary option for women to have control over their bodies and destinies.

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